Anchors for the Soul: How to Trust God in the Storms of Life (2nd ed. HIM Publications, 2019; $15.90 hardback) by John Mark Hicks is designed to help people dealing with great difficulties in life, such as suffering and grief, as well as those wanting to learn how to better aid them in their time of need. Coming in its second edition 18 years after the first, it book includes substantial new material.
The book interacts closely with scripture throughout, referencing examples from the Bible at virtually every turn.
By no means is it an academic guide, though, as it is a highly biographical and practical work at the same time. A professor of theology at Lipscomb University and long involved in ministry and the church, he shares insight from his experience and expertise.
Dr. Hicks describes his own relationship with suffering and grief, including the death of his first wife and, many years later, the death of his only son with his second wife and his divorce from her shortly after, and the impact on his relationship with God, how that relationship helped and was challenged, and his reflections on his experience through the years.
Most helpful, the second edition is accompanied by publication of a new video series, “John Mark Hicks Teaches Anchors for the Soul,” a group of 10 medium-length videos (available by digital access or DVD) designed to facilitate discussion, suitable for Sunday School, Wednesday night, or other classes or book groups, as well as by Journaling Through Anchors for the Soul: A Guide to Help Individuals Process Loss and Grief, a journaling experience volume.
Anchors for the Journey on the Difficult Seas of Life
Part One of Anchors for the Soul provides advice for those facing life difficulties themselves while Part Two is written to caregivers, such as friends, family, and fellow church-members, who might wish to comfort them.
In Part One, Dr. Hicks sketches in direct but poignant terms parts of his biography — the death of his first wife when he was 22, the death of his 16-year-old son after a long and debilitating illness, … — as an introduction before devoting a chapter to each of five “anchors” for the person going through the “storms of life.”
Each of the anchors consists of an anchoring, a solid connection and attachment that can make it through the storm, to God somehow. The first anchor for the soul, for example, is “confidence in the unrelenting love of God.” Dr. Hicks goes on to explain, with reference to scripture, his own experience, and his observations, how each anchor serves the person through the storm. In doing so, he provides practical encouragement and an uplifting example for people in extremely challenging situations.
His scriptural references are deep. Many books of this nature skim along the surface of Bible passages and stores, but not this one. Relative to the the first anchor I mentioned, Dr. Hick’s scriptural discussion echoes the depth of his discussion in his recent book on hermeneutics, “Searching for the Pattern,” in that they both emphasize creation, the story of Israel, and Christ.
Help for the Helpers
In an Interlude and then in Part Two, Dr. Hicks speaks to those who are asking themselves how to approach those who are suffering and grieving, how to provide comfort to those who are hurting, how to do a better job being a friend in dire times? Many of us have said things we regret in such situations or have avoided such situations out of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Dr. Hicks speaks to us and other, providing practical advice.
He devotes substantial attention to the question of when to remain silent and when to speak and (if speaking) what to say. This advice is a sample of Part Two: “Silence is only significant is we are also present. We can be silent at a distant, but that is no comfort. Be silent, but also be there. Be silent and listen. Be silent, but also do something to ese the burdens of life. Through the silent acts of presence and listening, we may have a clearer idea of what we might do that is truly needed. Then, we can also silently act.”
Anchors for the Soul also provides scripture passages for additional reading and discussion questions at the end of each chapter and a resource guide index for the Psalms relative to lament, praise, and confidence.
It is often difficult to read a book about pain and suffering, as I want to look away and deny the possibility. I have been through enough myself, though, to know better.
Worthwhile, Highly Recommend
Anchors for the Soul (2nd edition, HIM Publications 2019) is worthwhile and I highly recommend it, both for individual study and for classes. It will be of particular interest for those who like to consider scripture.
Many of these types of books tend to fall either on the highly academic side (all scripture and theory) or the highly personal side (here’s my story of the difficulties I have faced). There is nothing wrong with either one, but I point that out only to note that this book stands out to me, as it is dense with scripture and stories from the Bible while weaving in personal experience throughout.
I read this book, as I do many, with pen in hand and marked it up almost continuously as I read. For individual study, I can easily see anyone who is struggling with grief, pain, suffering, or similar issues in their life working through this book slowly, pen and highlighter in hand, and leaving little of many of the pages unmarked.
A church class looking to go beyond the basics, looking to study something meaningful and helpful for both themselves and the people around them, would do well to engage with Anchors for the Soul. I would probably use the videos for a Sunday School class, rather than just the book. A book club could focus just on the book, but a class in which a good part of the class is used to showing up rather than spending time reading would do well to use both the book and the videos.
Little to Criticize
I found very little to criticize. It was a bit dense with scripture in places, jumping around to various books of the Bible sometimes for principles and cites, rather than staying with one particular storyline. And long scripture cites were included sometimes in the text. I think our particular tradition of Christianity might demand this for credibility, but it can be disruptive when digesting a book of this nature at times.
I had a negative reaction at the end of some chapters. The “Group Reading and Discussion Questions” at the conclusion of each assigned scripture (some of which was discussed in the chapter) and then asked questions about those. After reading the book chapter, I was ready to jump into a discussion of the book chapter, not read another scripture passage and discuss it. In other words, the book chapter was moving and interesting and I wanted to get right to discussing it, not be assigned additional reading and discuss a Bible passage. They were related and tied back, but it would have been smoother and more interesting for the discussion questions to focus more on the book chapter. This speaks more to how interesting I found the book chapter. The questions themselves were often interesting, too.
High Quality Construction
I was not previously familiar with HIM Publications. The book is well constructed — high quality throughout, including its cover, color-scheme, lay-out. The attention to quality and detail is evident.
Combination of Experience and Expertise
It is extremely challenging to discuss grief and suffering. One of the reasons is that it is hard to find the words to capture those feelings with any real precision. It is also difficult to discuss God. There are too many reasons that God is a difficult topic to feel satisfied mentioning only one, but one is that it is hard to find the words to capture one’s own feelings and relationship with God with any real precision.
John Mark Hicks has traveled the seas of grief and suffering and has traveled the seas of deep theological study and thought. He has taken the time to find those words and to put down in written form an accessible map for us, to help us know those anchors for our journey on that sea of grief and suffering, to help us know those anchors for when we help others on their journey. For this, I am grateful.
I imagine if we would all read just the two chapters on how to help other people with their struggle and implement even a bit of it, this world would be a much better place. But, recognizing that my own struggles have and will come, and will come again (and again), I would like to know well all five anchors.
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Sources and Notes
The picture is of my copy of Anchors for the Soul: How to Trust God in the Storms of Life (2nd ed. HIM Publications, 2019; $15.90 hardback) by John Mark Hicks.
“Anchors for the Soul: How to Trust God in the Storms of Life” (2nd ed.) is a book by John Mark Hicks designed to help people dealing with great difficulties in life, such as suffering and grief, as well as those wanting to learn how to better aid them in their time of need.Although written by a theology professor and filled with scriptural references, this is no academic work, as Dr. Hicks has been through great difficulties himself, including the death of his first wife at 22, the death of his 16-year-old son after a long, debilitating illness, and divorcing from his second wife not long after, and he weaves advice from that experience and his long-time work in ministry into the book.This article reviews the book. I highly recommend it, both for individual study and for church classes, particularly if you like a highly scriptural approach. There is a related video series available, too.