Five Hard Truths That Will Set You Free

Given our current profound troubles, it occurs to me to republish an article from some years back. Like most, I have been through difficulties in my life: violent storms, an earthquake, and the loss of several loved ones. But I have never seen something quite like what we are experiencing now. It is unclear how long things will last, and the restrictions get more severe by the day. With all that in mind, I think it is important to recall the five hard truths that follow. I hope you won’t think I am trying to pour salt in our collective wounds. The message of this post is this: accepting that life has sufferings and setback is a freeing notion. Acceptance is a middle ground between resignation and approval. To accept something is be willing to pick it up and carry it for now, like a cross. Because we have not had to endure the large-scale suffering of previous eras, we have come to expect that things should be convenient and go smoothly. This actually increases our sorrow and anger when they don’t. Acceptance of the five hard truths described below can provide strange consolation. Following is the reprinted post:

The five truths  that follow are indeed hard. They rock our world and stab at the heart of some of our most cherished modern notions. If they can be accepted for the truth they convey, however, they bring great peace. These truths are not only good medicine for our collective self-absorption but they also help us to have more realistic expectations as we live out our lives in this 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.

I did not originate the following five principles, but the commentary is my own. So thank the one to whom the Holy Spirit first spoke them and tolerate my meager commentary.

1.  Life is hard. We live in times of comfort and convenience. Medicine has removed a lot of pain and suffering from our lives. Consumer goods are readily available and we have a wide array of choices. Entertainment comes in many varieties and is often inexpensive. Hard labor is something that few of us are familiar with. Obesity is common due to overconsumption and underactivity.

All of these creature comforts have led us to expect that life should always be just peachy. We become outraged at the slightest suffering, inconvenience, or delay.

Our ancestors lived lives that were far more “brutish and short,” to borrow a phrase from Thomas Hobbes. Life was a “vale of tears.” They understood that suffering was a part of life. When we suffer today, we start thinking about lawsuits and who is to blame. Suffering seems obnoxious to us and hard work unreasonable! We are angered and flung into anxiety at the mere threat of suffering.

This principle reminds us that suffering and difficulty are part of life; they should be expected. Accepting suffering does not mean we have to like it. Acceptance of the fact that life will be hard at times means that we get less angry and anxious when it is; we do not lose serenity. In fact, it brings a strange sort of peace. We are freed from unrealistic expectations that merely breed resentment. We also become more grateful for the joys we do experience.

2.  Your life is not about you. If you want to make God chuckle, 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 remember that our true happiness comes from getting not what we want, but what God wants. Our destiny is not to follow our star; it is 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 ahead of time with God about important things like careers, entering into a marriage, or pondering a large project. We just go off and do what we please, expecting 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. We have greater serenity when we discern that place and humbly seek God’s will. Accepting the fact that we are not the masters of our own destiny, not the captains of our own ship, gives us greater peace. It also usually saves us a lot of mileage.

Humbly accepting that our life is not simply about us and what we want is a freeing truth. We often don’t get what we want; if we can allow life to just unfold and not demand that everything be simply the way we want it, we can be more serene and free.

3.  You are not in control. Control is something of an illusion. We may have plans for tomorrow but there are many things between now and tomorrow over which we have no control. For example, we cannot even control or guarantee the next beat of our heart. I may think I have tomorrow under control, but tomorrow is not promised; it may never come.

Because we think that we control a few things, we think that we can control many things. Not really. Our attempts to control and manipulate outcomes are comical, sometimes even harmful.

Thinking that we can control things leads us to think that we must control them. This in turn leads to great anxiety and often anger as well.

We usually think that if we are in control we will be less anxious. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the more we think we can control, the more we try to control, which increases our burdens and anxiety. We end up getting 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, in fact—over which we have no control. Our expectation of everything being under control is unrealistic. Life comes at you fast. Brooding over unpredictable and uncontrollable things amounts to bondage. Simply accepting that we are often not in control is freeing.

4.  You are not that important. This one hurts. We often think that the whole world should revolve around us. We think it is only our feelings that matter and our well-being that is important. We are loved by God in a very particular way, but that does not change the fact that we must often yield to others who are also loved by God in a very special way.

Sometimes other people are more important than we are. We might even be called upon to give our life so that others may live. We must yield to others whose needs are more crucial than our own. The world doesn’t exist just for us and what we want.

There is great peace and freedom in coming to accept this. We are often made so anxious if we are not recognized while others are, or if our feelings and preferences are not everyone’s priority. Accepting the truth that we are not that important allows us to relax and enjoy caring about other people and celebrating their importance.

5.  You are going to die. We get all worked up about what this world dishes out, but just take a walk in a cemetery. Those folks were all worked up too. Now their struggles are over. If they were faithful, they are with God; they are now experiencing 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, ignoring our most urgent priority. In the end, this is freeing because we are loosed from the many excessive and often conflicting demands of the world; we can concentrate on doing the one thing necessary. Our life simplifies and we don’t take this world too seriously because we understand that it is passing away. There is great 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. Pull them out when life comes at you fast and hard with its agenda of self-importance and the empty promise of perfect comfort here on earth. A simple, sober, humble, and focused life brings great serenity.

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

  1. Monsignor,

    May I offer brotherly correction in a spirit of charity public as are your remarks are made.

    My opinions are made openly and naturally availed for comment and correction.

    We might reflect on Gaudiam et Spes authored by men described by Father Rosica CSB as men who had experienced two world wars, the horror of the Holocaust, the onset of the nuclear weaponry, the hostility of communism, the awesome and only partially understood impact of science and technology.

    The document does state, mindful of the authors background, were that”… the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

    That said I look too the signs of the times as did our Church leaders with the authority of the Second Vatican Council.

    Your litany:
    1. Life is hard.
    2. Your life is not about you.
    3. You are not in control.
    4. You are not that important.
    5. You are going to die

    There seems to be an element of hoplessness monsignor in promulgating these “truths”.

    My view to be blunt seems that these statements were what the men who delivered Gaudium et Spes fought against.

    These statement promulgated by a Catholic clergyman are at best insensitive.

    May I amend you list?

    1 Life begins in child birth endured by our most blessed Mother.
    2 Life begins at birth and Our Holy Mother would argue that the fruit of her womb is not about her but her child.
    3. Mary chose to allow her child to be here.
    Camus and Sartre chose to attack control of choice
    4. You are not that important.

    Pontus Pilate said that to a forgotten guy some time ago.

    St Francis derided nature as did not God being proud of his Creation.
    5. You are going to die

    That is not news or new..

    The man who met criteria 1 to 5 still hangs around.

    My dear Mosignor excuse my corrections.

    There are times when life is hard and money short.

    Kindness is in every breath we take.

    God is always with us, he sees us as kids in the garden of Eden.

    Some times like Peter Rabbit.
    Living on bread and wine is homely and just how it is.

    Take care my brother,


    1. Not sure I follow all this. But for hopelessness, I not sure you got the “set you free” part. There is a freeing aspect in acceptance which is the middle ground between resignation (hopelessness) and approval.

    2. Mon Pope, in 2016, I heard you give a talk on these very five points at a parish in Virginia.. Yesterday, as my wife read to me the first line or two of your article, I interrupted and recited from memory, in same order, these five points—from your talk. I’ve done that in a number of conversations. The five points are true. Hard to hear but true. I need to hear them over and over. They are life-giving. We need these because we live in denial at least a portion of every day. These bring us back to the truth, and that liberates us to live the gospel fully, passionately and selflessly. Truth matters. So, thank you for the reminder. Hope. Spe Salve.

  2. Makes perfect sense! And yet simple no books to buy no self help classes needed no Doctor or psychiatrist appointment to tell you what you should know or do just Be a good person and do what you can to make positive vibes and everything else will fall into place

  3. Thank you for the reminder, Father. Still, I can’t help but think how terrible it is that we no longer need communists to shutter our churches; we’re doing it ourselves. No sacraments. I am very sad.

    St. Patrick, pray for us.

    1. I Invision God’s heart grieving with you about this present absence of the sacraments…your devotion to Him is revealed in your sadness…His love for you prevails! Take comfort in knowing that you may find new and meaningful ways to rejoice in Him and in doing so you may find yet more comfort under the shadow of His wings…His ways are not our ways…His thoughts are not our thoughts…your life remains in His book of Life! Take joy!

  4. Exactly what I needed to be reminded of at this moment. Thank you, Msgr. Charles Pope.

  5. Thank you for reposting this Father, a very timely re(read) for me.

    I regard what was written as an excellent unpacking of the attitudes necessary to adhere to the truth ‘shouldering our crosses’.

    On the seeming conflict some may have between this and remaining silent in the face of injustice, my own thinking is that we should fight for the justice of others (as long as it is not for ouselves or worse still for our ego). Its like the last chicken drumstick on the table. If you don’t get it, be happy with the part you got. You can reach out to get it, but it would be to give it to the littlest one on the table to enjoy.

  6. My brother who is four years older than me emphasized these five hard truths upon me at my very young age until we set out on our own separate paths as adults. I came to accept this at a very young age as an insecure feeling. I am thankful to God for the influence my brother and other six siblings have had upon me. I pray for the well being of all in these conflicting times and securely look to God for guidance and have faith and confidence in His judgement.

  7. Thank you for elucidating what I recognize as revelations that
    have come to me, often abruptly, as I’ve stumbled along life’s
    path. Adapting these truths to one’s life does indeed lead to serenity. Actually, knowing Who is in control, Whose will is unfolding around us, is the most comforting and freeing knowledge
    anyone can acquire.
    Holy Spirit, Comfort of souls, embrace us.

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