Five Hard Truths That Will Set You Free

Some years ago I read an essay by the Franciscan Theologian Richard Rohr. I will say, (honestly) 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-focused 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. If you really want to give him a belly laugh, tell Him, His 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. –  Yes, it is a hard truth but it is very freeing. We get all worked up about what this world dishes out. But take 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,  they now experience that “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.

Painting above: Open Door By Donna Shasteen
As Seen In: The Illustrated Word

Some readers of this blog may recognize this post as a reworking of one I did two years ago. Every now and then, the day just gets past me, I was in meetings all day, and thought, “This will be a day to post a “greatest hits!”

34 Replies to “Five Hard Truths That Will Set You Free”

  1. Thank ou again Msgr”” I am accustomed to Father Rohr from my experiences as a S.F.O. and he does bring out facts that you may not like but they are the truth ….and like you said it sets you free like St Francis im his tiime….” i want to bre the birds in the sky”””………………from the Omnibus of St Francis…

  2. This is very comforting for anyone who really knows his mission on earth; to know, love and serve the lord. Many a time, we tend to forget these facts but they are always true. Thank you.

  3. Well said and quoted Msgr, this is one prayer we can share: Lord grant us the serenity to accept whatever we cannot change, the courage to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference, Amen.

    1. And here’s the rest of it;

      Living one day at a time;
      Enjoying one moment at a time;
      Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
      Taking, as He did, this sinful world
      as it is, not as I would have it;
      Trusting that He will make all things right
      if I surrender to His Will;
      That I may be reasonably happy in this life
      and supremely happy with Him
      Forever in the next.

      I love this prayer.

  4. Thank you Msgr. Just the thing I needed to read today too. Bookmarked to come back let it sink in further.

  5. So very true. I think that because so many people don’t understand those truths they also don’t experience the full joy of Easter. If we truly knew the hard truths of life, then our salvation from it would be welcomed with such joy.

  6. Well, I’m glad that you rework some old things because some of us are relatively new and we could all use some reminders as well.

    Sometimes I wonder that since God knew that evil would enter the world, and with it suffering and death, why He didn’t start over instead of working with what was already spoiled. Maybe human nature precludes it? Just from observing babies, you can see we are born with iron wills. We will scream until we get what we want and seek the boundaries that our parents set and cross the threshold. It’s like we are wired to be curious and disobey.

  7. If only I’d known these truths when I was eighteen!

    I’d never have gone to college!

  8. Unfortunately you are helping to promote the existence of your imaginary friend or therapeutical companion with sensless sayings.
    I am that one, that dies, i am that thing that dies together, The rest are illusions. Nobody is watching. Instead of enjoing life you are a scared animal trying not to die, “preparing yourself for God”
    I guess that your salary is too important to you to stop diseminating sadness and darkness on thy neighbours lives.

    1. Well of course if I am an illusion, why are you talking with me? Further I have no power to make you sad, especially if I am an illusion and even if I am real. Lastly, I am not sad or dark. I am joyful and alive in Christ and I boast of the Cross. These five hard truths that set free are rooted in the cross. Of the cross, Scripture says, The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

  9. “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. ”

    I can attest to the truth of this and spent most of my life doing it. How much unhappiness would be avoided if we consulted Our Lord as to what He would like for us to do rather than telling Him.

  10. Thank you Msgr., I needed to read this today. It is now on my Fav list. ♥♥♥

  11. Mookie, I don’t know about the US, but in this European country, a priest earn less than half than what an unskilled 18 year old earns, and for a much harder workload. None of the priests here do it for the money. Maybe they do it because they burn with love for God and their fellow man, you know? There is a lot more than money in this wonderful world Mookie.

  12. This article struck me as funny in a way, because these five truths are fundamental, and I recognize them in my life. But just a word about Fr. Richard Rohr, if this is the same person I’ve heard of: his writings supposedly sound suspiciously like new age or eastern religion ideas. I don’t know exactly what Fr. Richard Rohr he might have written under those headings, but I most certainly like the ones that Msgr. Pope wrote here.

  13. I wonder if Ernest Prempeh Sarpong and Vijaya learned the “Serenity Prayer” from Alcoholics Anonymous (directly or indirectly through other people) as I did. That is certainly a fellowship where miracles are accompanied by work, on the part of the members. which requires us to learn the truth which sets us free (from slavery to sin) beginning in the 1930’s.
    When I see so many predictions coming true I sometimes wonder how imminent the day is which only the Father knows (Matthew 24:36 Mark 13:32)
    At any rate, when these truths didn’t irritate me I was a little disappointed since you have irritated me in a positive before with your beneficial discomfort; and I was a little concerned that you may be losing your touch but now, I recall that they certainly did when first presented to me over the last few years. I guess that’s well covered in #2 & 4 where I am reminbed that it’s not all about me.
    As an aside, AA tends to use these 5 truths among and their Twelve Steps have been adapted to all of life’s problems with comprehensive Step Guides available from many Christian book stores in real space and cyberspace.

  14. yes msgr. Pope, this writing really brings salvation to everyone who accepted that there is an Omnipotent One, the all knowing GOD of the universe.

  15. It’s amazing what some religious pastors teach – that we are “entitled” to be rich, to have everything etc. What a pity for those who believe that and what a disservice to their congregation(s). This is also so opposite of what Scientology teaches. We are in a very “dire” time.

  16. There are no illusions here, it is the stark truth, accept it or leave it, maybe we like to live in an imaginary world and think all this is nothing but fairy tales,………there is no crown without the cross.

  17. i do not know you but will ask God to help and forgive yoi on your comment God is alive and real i hope you find him and you are forgiven when you accept him

  18. I think alot of people talk to God about most everything. It’s just that I wonder how many take the time to hear His reply. He seems to be saying things like” Love me, love my creation, find joy in Me, rest in Me, thank Me, trust Me,also love My Mother and most of all be silent with Me.” The day is coming when we will surely laugh with the Lord. Much is going on in the world which is nonsense and unimportant. Let it pass by. As St. Teresa of Avila said” Let nothing disturb you; nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices.” Bl. Teresa of Calcutta said that what she and her order did was but a drop in the ocean. She was telling the truth. God is not a demanding taskmaster. Do only what He wants you to do. I’ve found it to be small and small actions. So what? as long as I please the Lord. I pray daily for the Holy Father, now there is someone with a large burden.

  19. Five truths…..(five fingers..) Put them together pointing up to Heaven!!!…….in Prayer to Our God, Our Creator. Our Father, as Jesus His Only Begotten Son and Our Savior, teaches us. We are thus ALL His Children. (…..and, our brothers, the Muslims, have a prayer habit of praying five times a day!) We Christians should imitate that too.

  20. Monsignor Pope,

    Thank you for this excellent summary. About a year ago my men’s small group read Br. Rohr’s book on the topic — “Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation.” (He’s certainly a provocative author and I, too, don’t subscribe fully to his views, but there’s value in these observations and the Christian corollaries to each.) Recently (beginning of August) our group took our mostly-early-teenaged-sons to Haiti on a mission trip in which we did construction work in the mornings and did outreach at orphanages in the afternoons. In the evenings, we centered our devotionals around these five statements plus some intro and follow-up material. “Life is hard” took on a really fresh meaning for us in that context, both from a first-person perspective (the boys — and their dads! — weren’t used to having no air conditioning, exhausting labor, and, sometimes, emotionally wrenching conditions). And yet we were able to see, far more clearly than here in the States, joy, community, and a fullness of life amidst the hardship. When we got to the “you are going to die” night, I took that one, because we lost my wife/my son’s mom to breast cancer almost 5 years ago, and I knew it would be both hard and meaningful for my son. Rohr makes the point in his book that the people who have the most difficulty letting go of life are the ones who have never really *lived.* I used as an illustration my wife’s journey with cancer — she was diagnosed in Stage 4. Yet in the two and a half years between her diagnosis and her death, she touched many, many people. Although she didn’t receive the physical healing she so wanted, she brought spiritual healing to many, including me. The thing that struck me about her final years was that she was so fully *alive* during that time. This is the abundant life that Jesus spoke of in John 10:10. By this point in our time in Haiti, the physical discomforts had faded, we had gotten our bearings, and we were all starting to really enjoy the opportunity to serve and to engage in fellowship with the Haitian people. It was undeniably *abundant life* — an experience that none of us would likely have in our insular environments back home. I challenged the boys to deny that this was *living.* I explained that this was why we brought them to Haiti — so that they could truly live, and so that they would ultimately be prepared to die. It was a blessing to be able to experience each of these truths in action, and to have the opportunity to reflect on them in the evenings (although the boys wouldn’t necessarily agree than an hour or so of lesson after dinner was that much of a blessing!). Thank you for sharing these with a wider audience and for providing your insightful remarks. This past Thursday, our group (plus the boys) reconvened to consider the Christian response to each of these truths, which I think are worth mentioning in closing:

    1) Life is hard BUT My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
    2) Your life is not about you BUT we are all members of the body of Christ.
    3) You are not in control, BUT we serve a good God who is. (thinking of Job 38:4)
    4) You are not that important, BUT you are made in the image of God and He knows every hair on your head from the beginning of time.
    5) You are going to die, BUT neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,… can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    In Christ,

  21. If life is not about us and we are not that important, why do we even consider these deeply existential questions?

  22. I don’t think Father Rohr is trying to deny that we’re important. He’s just acknowledging it. Two different things.

    “Importance” as a value judgment is very different from “importance” as an observation of the human condition. We are important to each other. Our projects, our this, our that, are important to one another, sometimes way too much.

    Some of us are so rooted in our denial systems that an essay like this makes us scared–frankly, as evidenced by the uncharitable reactions seen in this queue.

Comments are closed.