33 Simple Truths for a Complicated Time
It’s been, for all of us, an immensely difficult time. The pandemic. The police brutality. The tragedy. And above all that, the fighting, not-listening, the social confusion. And by “difficult,” I mean disorienting, heart-wrenching, soul-crushing, deadening.
This last week, for me at least, it got to be a little (ok, a lot) too much. As the world becomes increasingly unrecognizable, I have found myself looking up and tracking down familiar books, poems, verses, thoughts to remind myself of the core things I believe and know to be true–however messed up, complicated, and disheartening things seem on the outside.
A quick disclaimer before I share these encouraging tidbits: some of them may at first glance seem to endorse a kind of passivity or glibness (as though all we need to “fix things” is some prayer and happiness). But as a Christian, I see virtues like prayer, thanksgiving, and above all humility to be where global change really begins. It is often harder to quietly but honestly face our own inner demons–be they hopelessness, apathy, anxiety, racism, or some other deep struggle or shortcoming–than to rage against someone else’s. This is precisely what Christ meant when He said to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), a truth that–while not on the list below–is also applicable to these complicated times.
Removing our own hidden planks is a process that never ends. If we are committed to a life of humility and self-examination, we will never fully arrive at a position of perfection from which we can judge others more harshly than ourselves. If everyone lived that way, having discussions about systemic problems and inequities would be a far different and more life-giving process–that is the kind of world I long for.
33 Simple Truths For a Complicated Time
- We are (all) “noble ruins.” No one is incapable of rising to splendor or sinking to rubble.
- “Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” —Martin Luther (Apocryphal)
- “Trust in what is difficult, it is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.” —Rilke
- Cosmic change begins in the heart, though it doesn’t end there.
- “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” (Unkown)
- “We will say many things and not reach the end,
But the sum of our words is seen in this: ‘He is the all.’“
(Wisdom of Sirach 43:27, SAAS)
- To pray for one’s enemies is not to endorse their sins. To pray for one tragedy is not to minimize all others.
- “Listen up: there’s no war that will end all wars.” (
- True prayer is not retreating from reality but bearing it in its fullest measure.
- “May neither anger against the strong nor contempt for the weak erupt in my heart! For all things are frailer than the morning dew.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovic)
- The opposite of a lie is usually also a lie. Look for truth in the middle, where things are muddled and equitable and hard to fit on a single bumper sticker.
- “All words are but a poor translation.” (Franz Kafka)
- Seek paradox instead of polarity. Beware the allure of over-simplicity, ease, clarity, control, and unexamined self-assurance.
- “It is our duty to give thanks even for hell itself. . . . Let us give thanks not only for blessings which we see, but also for those which we see not, and for those which we receive against our will. For many are the blessings He bestows upon us without our desire, without our knowledge.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Ephesians)
- You can be right, or you can be in relationship. (Amended from the more famous maxim: “You can be right or you can be married.”)
- “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
- We are (always) living in a time of great potential for either transformation or deformation. Embark carefully upon every moment.
- “Let us never fail to give God thanks continually for all these things, not only that He has freed us from calamities, but that He has permitted them to happen.”
(St. John Chrysostom, Homily 21 on the Statutes)
- If you must err, err on the side of humility, mercy, and repentance.
- “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.
Amen.” (Reinhold Niebuhr, second half of the “Serenity Prayer”)
- It is okay to be quiet. There is a difference between the silence of inaction, moral complicity, and apathy on the one hand; and the silence of recognition and humility, of attentiveness and bearing witness to the awe-ful mystery of the historical moment in which we find ourselves.
- “Humankind cannot bear much reality.” (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets)
- Hope is a muscle and atrophies from lack of use. Just as one can’t lift a heavy weight without training, we cannot lift hope if we have not first trained ourselves in small and lightweight moments—the translucent promise of dandelion seeds floating in the air, a ray of sunlight piercing the clouds, the memory of a friend’s smile. Slowly we gain the ability to bear the burden of hope amid tragedy, despair, evil.
- “We are beggars; this is true.” (Martin Luther, shortly before his death)
- Our words and attitudes are only loving if they evidence peace, joy, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, self-control, and a willingness to bear all things, endure all things and believe all good things. Thoughts that are easily provoked, that bear evidence of jealousy, violence, discord, selfish ambition, rage, and self-righteousness are not loving, no matter how well intentioned.
- “When we say ‘Christ is in our midst,’ we are acknowledging that He meets us in the midst of the struggle which grows more intense as we pray with our lives, ‘Lord, let me love the world through You’ all the way to hell if necessary.”
(Stephen Muse, Treasure in Earthen Vessels)
- “We do not see the world as it is but as we are.” (The Talmud)
- Less is more, bigger is not always better, louder is not always more effective.
- “It is good for me to cling to God.” (Psalm 73:28)
- “Do not seek things too difficult for you,
Nor examine that which is beyond your strength.” (Wisdom of Sirach 3:20)
- “There can be no theosis without kenosis” (Fr. Thomas Hopko). There can be no self-actualizing without self-emptying love.
- “It is good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” (Rilke)
- “If you give the world your best, it may never be enough. Give the world your best anyway.” (Mother Teresa)