Men are supposed to be tough. We all know that.
Even feminists who say they like soy boys end up marrying tough guys.
But being tough isn’t just about physical strength. In fact, physical strength is downstream of toughness. Toughness works like this:
Spiritual toughness: God owes me nothing, and I owe Him everything.
Environmental toughness: Comfort is the enemy I fear most.
Mental toughness: I can sit still and silent for 60 minutes without losing my mind.
Relational toughness: I love my neighbor for the love of God.
Physical toughness: I can grow or gather food for my family, protect my family from predators, and carry heavy loads when necessary.
Toughness begins with spiritual toughness, and spiritual toughness is a freely-given gift from God that you cannot develop without Him. A man who is tough in other ways but not spiritually tough is actually dangerous.
I’ll be honest. I am not doing well on these measures. I often expect God to give me things. I wear clothes based on comfort. I get up and move to more comfortable chairs. I reach for my phone after 30 seconds of silence. I love my neighbor according to what he can do for me. And I used Christmas and work as an excuse to neglect working out for about three weeks now.
But I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’m going to join an Exodus 90 fraternity this year. My fraternity is holding its prep meeting today, and it couldn’t come at a better time for me. I’m a mess.
What Is Exodus 90?
Straight from the Exodus 90 website:
Exodus 90 is a ninety-day spiritual exercise for men based on three pillars: prayer, asceticism, and fraternity.
All three of these pillars are essential aspects of the Christian life. It is for this reason that taking up this spiritual exercise requires taking up all three of these pillars humbly.
Exodus 90 includes a guided reading of the Book of Exodus, a daily holy hour of prayer, and ascetic practices to help men escape their bondage to this world. These ascetics include:
Take short, cold showers [or long cold showers if you’re up to it]
Practice regular, intense exercise
Get a full night’s sleep (at least seven hours is recommended).
Abstain from alcohol
Abstain from desserts and sweets
Abstain from eating between meals
Abstain from soda or sweet drinks (white milk, black coffee, and black tea are permissible)
Abstain from television, movies, or televised sports
Abstain from video games
Abstain from non-essential material purchases
Only listen to music that lifts the soul to God
Only use the computer for work, school, or essential tasks (e.g., paying bills).
Only use mobile devices for essential communications; cut out non-essential texting, app, and internet use.
Take Wednesdays and Fridays as days of fasting. (Abstain from meat and only eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.)
Frankly, the exercise is tough. But men should be able to complete it. It’s okay to modify some of the practices for physical or other needs, but the big value comes from the sacrifice required.
The best part: you’ll be a better man, a tougher man, a more pleasant man. And these improvements last long after the 90 days end. (But not forever if you don’t sharpen the blade.)
Combine With Lent for Maximum Results
The most effective time to start Exodus 90 this year is January 15. But if you can’t start then, start another time. The app lets you set any start date.
Lent is a period of penance and abstinence. You’re going to follow that practice, anyway. Double it. Add a few more practices like cold showers, working out, giving up social media, and an hour of prayer. (BTW, without television, movies, radio, and social media, you’ll have more than enough time for a holy hour and a workout.)
Find 5 to 8 Men to Form a Fraternity
The absolute most difficult part of Exodus 90 is finding men to join a fraternity. Get started early.
You’ll need at least 5 men because some will drop out.
With these men, you will form a brotherhood, a tribe. Your tribe will have your back when this world bears down on you with more fury and vengeance than you can stand alone.
Exodus 90 Veterans Can Change Things Up
If you’ve already done Exodus 90 once or multiple times, you might not be down with reading Exodus again. There’s another path.
The Exodus 90 app includes many exercises: seasonal for Lent and Advent, Bible exercises, etc. Each of these other exercises has its own readings and disciplines.
Instead of doing Exodus 90 for the fourth time, one of my fraternity brothers suggested we form a fraternity of Exodus 90 veterans and choose two of those additional exercises that total about 90 days. We’re meeting after Mass today to decide on the exercises to follow and plan our start date accordingly. We’ll want to schedule it to end on or just before Easter to cover all of Lent. (I’m leaning toward either the Book of Daniel plus the Lent exercise, or the Book of 1 Maccabees plus the Lent.)
Note: Contact me if you need to find a fraternity in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.
Why should you go through a 90-day exercise of prayer, ascetics, and fraternity? Because that’s what men do.
When trouble comes, and it will, our help is in the name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth. (Adiutórium nóstrum in nómine Dómini. Qui fecit cælum et terram.) As I have written exhaustively, man can do nothing but fail unless his will is aligned toward the will of God.
When trouble comes, and it will, we need mental, emotional, and physical strength. That includes resilience in the face of depravation. You might not have warm water to bath in or bourbon to sooth your mind. You might not have a comfortable bed. You might not have power tools to bore holes or cut lumber. If you’re not practiced in surviving under conditions of extreme deprivation, you and the family you’re duty-bound to protect will be lost. You will be lost spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
When trouble comes, and it will, you and your family will need a tribe that is at least as resilient and disciplined as you. Young men will need elders who’ve experienced more of life. Old men will need young men to provide the strength and stamina to fight and hunt and build.
When times get tough, men turn toward or away from God decisively. The more resilient you are going into the maelstrom, the better your chances of coming out of it with your mind, body, and soul intact.
Prayer, ascetics, and fraternity are the ingredients, but you need to mix them before the bad happens. (Et libera nos a malo.) Once things go sideways, you’re stuck with who you are.
Some Personal Experiences
I did Exodus 90 in 2019 without a fraternity. I missed most of the Blues’ run to the cup, but it was worth it. I followed the practice strictly.
I repeated in 2020 with two other men, but our fraternity got disrupted by Covid. Not everyone made it through. During that exercise, I lost my sister, and being in the discipline of Exodus 90 was extremely helpful to me.
Last year, I was on my own again, and I did not perform well. (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)
Here’s what I’ve learned:
One ascetic discipline will 100 times harder for you than all the others combined. For me, it’s staying away from social media. I’ll talk to my brothers at our prep meeting to decide how I should approach social media and keep my blog going.
If you’re married, talk to your wife about what’s involved and express to her that this is important to you. She will likely grow tired of Exodus 90 before you do, but she will appreciate it later. God will make you into a better husband and father, and she will see it. But she will not be happy from about day 21 to day 60. She will want to go to a movie or watch a movie at home, etc.
Don’t withdraw from life. If your colleagues hold a happy hour you’d normally attend, go. Just don’t drink. If there’s a family wedding, go. Just don’t drink or eat cake. If there’s a funeral of a loved, same deal. The disciplines are meant to train men to live in the world without being of the world. You’re not becoming a hermit.
Go to bed early and wake up early. During Exodus 90, I’m usually in bed between 8:30 and 9:00 and up at 3:45. My mornings look like this:
4:00 to 5:00: Holy Hour
5:00 to 6:00: Work out
6:15 to 6:30: Shower, shave, and dress
6:30 to 7:30: Free time! (go crazy)
7:30: Leave for work
Evenings: cooking, laundry, errands, etc.
8:30: Examen, prayer, and bed
DO THE DAILY BIBLE READINGS AND MEDITATIONS WITHOUT FAIL. Men who drop out of Exodus 90 drop out about two weeks after they stopped doing the daily readings. I would argue that modern men cannot survive the ascetics for 90 days without God’s help. Humility is the most important factor in getting through. (The first shall be last, etc.)
Go to confession at least every other week. (This is the advice of my pastor.)
Assist at one Daily Mass every week. (You need the graces conferred in the Holy Eucharist.)
When you are angry that you’re missing out on something (and you will be from time to time), pray. Your anger will pass.
When you’re hungry and want to eat on a fasting day, pray. Your hunger will disappear in about 5 minutes tops.
When you find yourself on Twitter or Facebook or the like, close the app and ask Our Lady for strength of mind. (O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.)
Have a stack of books to read in the evenings. Some suggestions:
Dennis Prager’s Exodus
Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink
The Reactionary Mind by Michael Warren Davis (review)
Anything by Dostoevsky
Resilience by Eric Greitens
Nearer, My God by William F. Buckley Jr.
Keep a journal, especially for your nightly exam. Use the contents of this journal for your weekly Confessions.
Attend every fraternity weekly meeting
Women: What’s In It For You?
Sorry, ladies, Exodus 90 is for men. Maybe there’s a similar exercise out there for women, but Exodus 90 is for men.
The good news is that, if you are married or dating or have sons, Exodus 90 will make them better men for you. Want your husband to have time to do more around the house? Lose a few pounds? Be closer to God’s ideal man? Maybe you should consider suggesting Exodus 90.
And if your husband or boyfriend is planning on joining or starting an Exodus 90 fraternity, encourage him. Offer up the things you’ll have to sacrifice for 90 days while God transforms him into a better husband. Be patient. Give him the time for his daily Holy Hour and nightly examen and thrice-weekly workouts. Let him go to his fraternity meetings. Put up with his going to bed early and waking you up at 3:45 a.m. when he gets out of bed to pray.
Remember, ladies, the man is commanded to love and protect you the way Jesus loves and protects us. He must be prepared to die for you so that you and your children can continue on. How can he do that mighty job if he’s not aligned with God, mentally strong, comfortable with deprivation, fit, and humble?
Exodus 90 isn’t the only way to those qualities, but it’s tried and true and well-documented. Help him.
The Countdown Is On
January 15 is 90 days from Easter. Let’s do this together.