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Five Hard Truths That Will Set You Free

November 4, 2009

Some years ago I read an essay by  the Franciscan Theologian Richard Rohr. I will say that I do not share a lot of agreement with Richard Rohr (no need to detail that here) but I found this particular essay compelling. I do not recall the exact title of that essay but in my mind the title “Five Hard Truths that Will Set You Free” seems the best title.  The following  five truths from that essay are indeed hard truths. They tend to rock our world and stab at the heart of some of our most cherished modern notions. But if they can be accepted for the truth they convey they bring great peace. We live is a rather self-absorbed, self-pre-occupied time and these five truths are not only good medicine for that but they also help us to have more realistic expectations as we live in an imperfect and limited world. Study these truths well. If they irritate you a bit, good, they’re supposed to. They are meant to provoke thought and reassessment. The principles are Richard Rohr’s the comments are mine.

  1. Life is hard –We live in rather comfortable times. These are times of convenience and central air conditioning. Medicine has removed a lot of pain and suffering and consumer goods are in abundance and variety. Entertainment comes in many varieties and is often inexpensive. Hard labor is something few of us know, obesity is common due to over abundance. Because of all these creature comforts we have tended to expect that life should always be peachy. We are rather outraged at suffering, inconvenience and delay. Our ancestors lived lives that were far more brutal and short and they often spoke of life as a “vale of tears” and understood that suffering was just a part of life. But when we suffer we start to think in terms of lawsuits. Suffering seems obnoxious to us, hard work, unreasonable! We are often easily angered and flung into anxiety at the mere threat of suffering. This principle reminds us that suffering and difficulty are part of life, something that should be expected. Accepting suffering does not mean we have to like it. But acceptance of the fact that life can be hard at times means we get less angry and anxious when it does come. We do not lose serenity. Accepting that suffering is inevitable brings a strange sort of peace. We are freed from unrealistic expectations that merely breed resentments. We also become more grateful for the joys we do experience. Accepting that life can be hard is a truth that sets us free.
  2. Your life is not about you– If you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans. We often like to think that we should just be able to do what ever pleases us and maximizes our “self-actualization.” However, we do not decide alone what course our life will take. In this age of “nobody tells me what to do” it is important to be reminded that our true happiness comes not from getting what we want but what God wants. Our destiny isn’t to follow our star but to follow God. True peace comes from careful discernment of God’s will for us. It is sad how few people today ever really speak with God about important things like careers, entering into a marriage, pondering a large project. We just go off and do what we please and expect God to bail us out if it doesn’t go well. You and I do not exist merely for our own whims, we have a place in God’s plan. Our serenity is greater when we prayerfully discern that place and humbly seek God’s will. Accepting the fact that we are not merely masters of our own destiny and captains of our own ship gives us greater peace and usually saves us a lot of mileage. Humbly accepting the truth that my life is not simply about me and what I want is a truth that sets me free. This is true because we often don’t get what we want. If we can allow life to unfold more and not demand that everything be simply what I want I am  more serene and free.
  3. You are not in control– Control is something of an illusion. You and I may have plans for tomorrow but there are many things between now and tomorrow over which I have no control. For example, I cannot even control or guarantee the next beat of my heart. Hence I may think I have tomorrow under control but tomorrow is not promised and may never come. Because we think we control a few things we think we can control many things. Not really. Our attempts to control and manipulate outcomes are comical if not hurtful. Thinking that we can control many things leads us to think that we must control them. This in turn leads to great anxiety and often anger. We usually think that if we are in control we will be less anxious. This is not true, we are more anxious. The more we think we can control the more we try to control and thus the greater our burdens and anxiety. In the end we get angry because we discover that there many things and people we cannot control after all. This causes frustration and fear. We would be freer and less anxious if we would simply accept the fact that there are many things, most things, over which I have no control. Our expectation of everything being under control is unrealistic. Life comes at you fast and brooding over unpredictable things and uncontrollable matters is bondage. Simply accepting that I am often not in control is freeing.
  4. You are not that important– Uh Oh! Now this one hurts. I thought the whole world should revolve around me. I thought it was only my feelings that mattered and my well- being that was important. Truth be told, we are loved by God in a very particular way but that does not over rule the fact that I must often yield to others who are also loved by God in a very special way. The truth is sometimes that other people are more important than me. I might even be called on to give my life so that others may live. I must often yield to others whose needs are more crucial than mine. The world doesn’t exist just for me and what I want. There is great peace and freedom in coming to accept this. We are often made so anxious if we are not recognized and others are or if our feelings and preferences are not everyone’s priority. Accepting the truth that I am not that important allows us to relax and enjoy caring about other people and celebrating their importance too.
  5. You are going to die. – Oh man, that’s cold. Yes, it is a hard truth but it is very freeing. We get all worked up about what this world dishes out. But talk a walk in a cemetery. Those folks were all worked up too. Now their struggles are over and, if they were faithful they are with God. Trouble don’t last always. This truth also helps us to do the most important thing: get ready to meet God. So many people spend their lives clowning around and goofing off. Yet our most urgent priority is to prepare to meet God. In the end, this is freeing because we are loosed from the many, excessive and contrary demands of the world and we concentrate on doing the one thing necessary. Our life simplifies and we don’t take this world too seriously, it is passing away. There is peace and freedom in coming to accept this.

So there you have them. Five hard truths that will set you free. Think about them. Memorize them too and pull them out when life comes at you fast and hard with it’s agenda of control, self importance and empty promises of perfect comfort here on earth. A simple, sober, humble and focused life brings great serenity.

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.

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Comments (18)

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  1. anon says:

    Great post!! My kids know these five points all too well! The first four are regular topics of conversation in my home.

  2. Nick says:

    Great post, Your Excellency. I especially like the last one.

  3. This is the fact, so powerful and profound, common words but with wisdom. says:

    This is the fact, common words but profound and full of wisdom

  4. anon says:

    On the same note; Here’s pieces of a conversation I have had, and continue to have with my children, myself and friends: “If you make a mistake, all one can do is admit to it, accept responsibility for it and try not to do it again.” Basically, get yourself into “the box” so you’re back in a state of Grace with God. We need to own the sin, try and figure out how not to commit that sin again and then take advantage of His forgiveness offered through a priest with absolution. Then it’s time to let go of the baggage and move on. I sometimes speak of choices; i.e., one can learn or not learn from a mistake – it’s our choice. Lastly, I can’t resist mentioning – “Guess what. The one thing I think life guarantees is that we’ll make another mistake. Hopefully it will be a different one! Thanks Adam and Eve.”

    • Yes, I think your last point is right. It’s odd sometimes we even think we’re being contrite when we say, “How could I have done such a thing?” Even as the words come out of our mouth we are sinning with pride. The answer to the question, How could I have done such is thing” is the words from an Old Song: “Not brother nor my sister but it’s me O Lord, Standin in the need of Prayer!”

  5. Carlos says:

    I particularly struggle with #3. It’s especially contradictory because I went to a retreat a couple of years where I was not in control, and I loved it! Nonetheless, it’s difficult to take that lesson and make it last more than a weekend.

    • Yes, the whole concept of control is a hard one to manage. On the one hand we must accept that we are free and responsible for choices we make. On the other is that many if not most things are beyond our absolute control. Like everything with orthodoxy balance is the key. And also you are right, there are some time or areas of our life where we are very good at accepting that we are not in control. And other times or areas where that is most difficult indeed, especially when we sense we are responsible for something.

  6. anon says:

    In the last couple of posts on grief and suffering, as well as rule #5 (we will die), I found myself thinking about the life of another.

    I read about Viktor Frankl, who was a Holocaust survivor, psychologist and author of a series of books about man’s search for meaning. He converted to Catholicism as a result of a fundamental truth he learned. He wrote about his experiences in a concentration camp where he witnessed incredible acts of human kindness while, at the same time, witnessed people behaving like animals. For a while he was puzzled by why some people would be so selfless and others selfish. One day, when he was working out in the fields, where the conditions were harsh and guards would regularly beat prisoners, he realized that he was able to transcend that to experience a separate joy. He didn’t know if his wife was alive or dead, but thinking about her connected him to the love he felt for her, would always feel for her and would never go away. He drew a connection between that experience and others’ selfless acts. Those who are able to give selflessly understood that their bodies would not survive this world but love of one another would. To those people, loving others became a driving force.

    In terms of suffering, he had a beautiful saying (not exact):
    “To be a bright light, one must endure the burning.”

    • Shan says:

      Thanks for Sharing about Viktor Frankl. I will post in EASY WAYS to be a GOOD child of GOD FB page

  7. Joshua says:

    Greetings from Texas Your Excellency,

    Thank you, Your Excellency for the most wonderful reminders. We need so many more refreshing truths such as this you have written. God bless you.

  8. Alan says:

    Yes I agree with this essay. I also remember you giving a sermon on these points and it was compelling.

    God Bless You

  9. luzvimindarp says:

    I love your 5 hard points of truth in life that every christian must learn in order for them to love God and God alone. That is the ultimate practice that we have to accept and cherish as we travel in this world. If you have accepted this truth and practicing them you will find peace within your heart, joy and a loving heart.
    God bless us all. My prayers go with you always.

  10. dede says:

    Point 2 and 4 are more or less the same…

  11. [email protected] says:

    Yes… I enjoyed this… yet ‘in truth’… only one of these so called ‘five hard truths’; namely… ‘we are all going to die’… is in actuality a ‘truth.. the others are merely attitudes.
    1. Life is hard? Yes it can be… yet not necessarily so… If you feel this way may I suggest that you listen to Louis Armstrong sing ‘Life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street’., it may change your predisposition. 2. ‘Life is not about you’… yes it is, for indeed when I’m dead I won’t be aware of life.
    3. ‘You are not in control’ … Well if your not in control, don’t attempt driving a car or take any sense of personal responsibility whatsoever. 4. ‘You are not important’… Okay, this is relative… yet we are all important in some unique way to somebody else… for example, the parent is very important to the child (and vice versa); the person that drives the train (I hope that he or she is in control) and gets me safely home is important. Finally, when a cherished and loved one dies… you realise how important they are – to you!

    • You are free to pick away at these of course. However, you seem to be missing the analogical sense. Just about any statement can be parsed and exceptiona can be found. THat is because analogy means that something is LIKE something else, not that it IS that thing. Hence expressions beginning with “Life is” of “You are” are signaling you that the analogical sense is meant here. But you seem to absolutize the statments, not realizing or accepting their analogical sense. For example your analaysis of the the “You are not in control” is an absolute analysis wherein you seem to see control as an all or nothing thing. Yet, the statement does not quibble with your abilility to “control” a car. What the does remind you of is that you are not able to control your next heartbeat, or the behavior of other drivers, or the possible malfunction of the car etc. and all these things make your apparent control a contingent reality. The analogical sense states things simply and requires of us sophistication to appreciate the genre of human speech. Hence your lack or appreciation for these “truths” (and here again, the word truth is used analogically) stems from your tendenccy to misappropriate the genre in use. I could say to you “All things in moderation” but hopefully you would be sophisticated enough to know that such a statement is meant in a general sense, not an absolute sense. There are times where moderation is not appropriate and an all-out dedication to something is (at least temporarily called for). Language is often playful and summary in its execution, it is left to reader and listener to appreciate the genre and supply the nuances. To some extent I think you fail to do this in terms of these sayings by inisisting on interpreting them mechanistically and absolutely.

  12. Tommy says:

    I dont know about how true this writingis. But wouldn’t it begreat if it is?, good work!

    http://conseilsdesante.wordpress.com/