People say difficulty is part of life and that’s true. It is even more true to say that difficulty is most of life. Even our best moments have some difficult and unpleasant aspects. Unpleasant circumstances are so common that it is fair to say they make up a large segment of the fabric of life, of the texture of our routine comings and goings.
Even so, we all go through situations that stand out as especially excruciating. Robert Hicks focuses on these in his book “How a Man Faces Adversity.”
Hicks, a former military chaplain and counselor, explores the ways men respond to adversity in this short book. Hicks lays out both the best and the worst responses to adversity men choose.
He begins by looking at what makes the especially tough stuff so hard to deal with. Adversity can be so crushing, Hicks says, because it often comes out of the blue. We are taken aback by the sudden discovery of a wife’s disloyalty, a loss of income, or an unexpected death.
The suddenness of these calamities increases our sense of being out of control, our feeling of impotence. As men with a natural inner impulse to protect, preserve and repair, this sense of not being able to make things right exacerbates the shock and pain of the initial wound.
As a result, we often respond to suffering poorly. Hicks devotes a couple of chapters to examining the wrong ways to respond to adversity: shutting down, denial, blame and more. He also examines the inner weaknesses of character suffering can bring to the surface: pride, envy, rage and guilt.
Hicks is an evangelical Christian and ends his book with a theological reflection on the meaning of suffering. The strongest part of this section is his comments on how suffering is, ultimately, a mystery. Suffering, he says, is often the threshold of wonder. Through the things we suffer, we are able to come to deeper appreciation of the true, the beautiful and the good.
Hicks’ religious point of view means this book isn’t for everyone. However, it contains a number of worthwhile observations that stand alone, apart from any overtly religious content, and make the book worth the time required to read it. At only 140 or so pages, an average reader could finish it in under two hours.
Because the author is an evangelical, I expected the book to have certain faults. I expected to find the author glossing over the most serious and difficult circumstances men face in favor of a slew “just-trust-Jesus-and-it-will-be-ok” platitudes. This was not the case.
Hicks’ experience as a military chaplain provided him with many gut-wrenching examples of truly terrible circumstances. His illustrations, drawn from men’s experience in combat, and from men he has counseled who lost wives and children, were often the most gripping part of the book. Whatever the shortcomings of the book may be, refusing to look the worst of human suffering in the face is not one of them.
I expected Hicks to share the general blue-pill perspective of evangelicalism at large when it comes to relationships between men and women. I expected to see women exalted as somehow less corrupt than men, somehow existing on a higher moral plane.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case. I was especially especially surprised to find Hicks quoting men’s advocate Warren Ferrell in a couple of places. Hicks takes the unusual step, for an evangelical Christian at least, of advising men not to tell their wives too much about their struggles and inner pain. Doing so, according to Hicks, weakens women’s ability to trust our ability to protect and provide. Such advice could have come from any one of numerous manosphere writers.
Hicks’ book is worth the read. For a small investment of time, he walks men through some basic considerations about how to think about suffering. The book doesn’t offer action steps for addressing specific problems, but focuses instead on developing a resilient mindset, and on growing one’s character, the springs from which all practical solutions flow.
You can buy the book here.
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