3 ways to benefit from adversity
William Faulkner said, “Disaster seems to be good for people.” Why? Our hardest things tend to plane us down like rough-hewn boards. On the surface, we grow accustomed to distractions. The weather of ordinary, thoughtless routine dulls our souls. Our golden grain turns gray and pale. The smoothness we once had in striving for something (what is that something?) is buried beneath the surface. Adversity comes along and planes us down, curling away the unnecessary, revealing our greatest loves. Those greatest loves are what we should be chasing.
Given that adversity is, in that sense, a good thing, here are three ways we can always benefit from it.
1. Know what you’ve lost. There’s a place for mourning. There’s a place for frustration, angst, bitterness, resentment, pain. Ask yourself what the adversity has taken from you. Sometimes adversity takes things away that you didn’t need in the first place: egoism, materialism, vain ambitions. Other times it takes things that are precious. When I watched my father die in front of me as a teenager, I was losing something so precious that it would take years to process. Knowing what you’ve lost will clarify what you value. Knowing what you value will clarify where you go next.
Knowing what you’ve lost will clarify what you value.
2. Be active rather than passive. When we’re passive, we say, “Why did this happen to me?” When we’re active, we say, “What can I do with this?” Searching for ways to use the adversity is one of the secrets to personal growth and fulfillment. It doesn’t happen without the first step, without truly knowing what you’ve lost. But once you’re aware of what you’ve lost, you can start asking the questions that lead to using the adversity. Adversity, failure, and loss are not periods; they’re commas. Something comes after them. That’s why the French novelist Marcel Proust could say, “There is no easy success, nor definitive failures.” Adversity doesn’t end us; it shows us what’s coming next. The grab hold of what’s coming next, we need to be active, not passive.
Adversity, failure, and loss are not periods; they’re commas.
3. Seek out the shaping. In Finding Hope in Hard Things, my central idea is simple: Hard things shape us in ways that easy things can’t. That’s why “disaster seems to be good for people.” It’s the shaping. It’s the rough wood being planed down. It’s the formation of your character, the refining of your values. I believe that God is shaping each one of us. Adversity is one of the most effective tools.
I don’t like disaster. I don’t like adversity. I don’t like failure. I don’t look forward to hard things. But I have lived long enough to realize that adversity serves a greater purpose than simply frustrating us or breaking us down. Over time, it has the greatest potential to change us, to make us more ourselves than we were before. We all need to be planed down at times. Adversity is sharp. Ease is dull.
Pierce Taylor Hibbs is an award-winning Christian author who strives to encourage people in their difficulties. He’s the author of many books, including Struck Down but Not Destroyed: Living Faithfully with Anxiety; Still, Silent, and Strong: Meditations for the Anxious Heart; and Finding Hope in Hard Things: A Positive Take on Suffering.