There are five hard truths which are attributed to Franciscan theologian Fr. Richard Rohr. They are disturbing and unwelcome statements and will sometimes elicit strong reactions from people. Often when I have spoken about these hard truths, people will ask why I had to mention such heavy ideas. People will say that they wish I had talked about something else because these ideas were distressing and painful to hear.
Good. If you prefer not to hear hard truths, stop reading this article now. If, on the other hand, you would like to be free from some popular delusions, read on. The five truths are Richard Rohr’s and the reflections are mine.
First, Life is Hard. Our society seeks ease and comfort. Our technology continues to develop ways to make life increasingly isolated from pain. We have a standard of living unimaginable to previous generations of Americans: central air and heat, entertainment constantly offered us, an array of choices in stores, electronic appliances and gadgets to do work for us and to amuse us. We have been transformed from a society in which most people performed hard physical labor to one in which obesity is now a chronic societal problem. Look at photos of people in the US during WW II and notice how slim they were. When a long closed movie theater in one community was renovated and reopened, it lost more than 100 seats since modern chairs needed to be wider than the once comfortable, but narrower, chairs installed in the 1940s. We like things easy but the reality is that suffering is a part of life. Accepting suffering does not mean we have to like it. But we will suffer. We will usually not be able to choose when we suffer or how we suffer but neither will we be able to avoid suffering. All we can choose is what we will do with suffering. It will make us either better or bitter. If we can realize that suffering is a part of life, it frees us from the resentment which sets in when we suffer and frees us to savor the joys when they happen.
Second, Your Life is not about You. This statement goes against almost every commercial we encounter. We can enslave ourselves to our own appetites or we can free ourselves by seeking after God’s will in our lives. God’s plans for us are always for our good but often we decide what we will do without any consideration of what God is asking us to do. Our fulfillment is not in focusing on ourselves but in following God’s will. If we think that our life is about us we will be greatly resentful when we don’t get what we want. If, on the other hand, we seek God’s will with humility, there is a peace of mind and heart which liberates us. And, lest we forget, when we stand before God we will not be asked what did we do for ourselves but instead, “When I was hungry did you give me to eat, when I was thirsty did you give me to drink, when I was sick did you comfort me, when I was imprisoned did you visit me…?”
Third, You are not in control. Control is an illusion. One of the most presumptuous things in life is a calendar. Calendars are helpful but we have no power over how long we will live. As Jesus said: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Our misconception that we can control things leads us to think we must control things. This enslaves us to a world of anxiety, frustration, fear, and anger when, despite all our efforts, we fail to control. Freedom comes in realizing that the world is full of surprises far beyond our control. God is in control. To realize this is freeing.
Fourth, You are not that Important. Nope, not that important at all. Copernicus, the great Polish scientist, and a man of great faith, was the first to publicize the teaching that the universe does not revolve around the earth. This was a shock to the people of his time who thought the earth was the center of the cosmos. We could use a little of this knowledge too. The world does not revolve around us. The world owes us nothing. Sometimes our needs, and our feelings, must give way to the needs and feelings of others. Realizing this allows us to have a more realistic understanding of ourselves and embrace the unique greatness of all around us.
Fifth, You are Going to Die. We know this but we prefer not to think about it. Well, it going to happen. In keeping with hard truth number four above, no one is irreplaceable and everyone is going to die. A priest friend of mine used to say that he would start the day sitting at the kitchen table in the rectory having a cup of coffee and looking out the window at the church cemetery which, he said “…is filled with people who could not be replaced.” Then he began his day with a renewed sense of knowing God had given him the day to live by serving others. If we live with the awareness that we will stand before God, it changes the values by which we live and frees us to be the person God calls us to be and who we deep down inside wish to be.
As we observe this Lenten season perhaps these five hard truths may help us to obtain a little more wisdom as we prepare to celebrate and accept the promise of eternal life God offers us.