Friday, July 4, 2014

first world problems

I don’t know who was the first person to use the hashtag #firstworldproblems, signaling out the “trials” and “tribulations” endured by the privileged folks of the first world. But I have to say that I find mentions of first world problems so very entertaining. I love it when strangers call out strangers on their ingratitude, when friends point the finger at their whiny elite friends, and especially when individuals pre-announce that what they are about to say is, in fact, an exaggeration of a lame, probably-not-a-real-problem-problem.

In case you aren't inundated with enough first-world-problem entertainment in real life, there are whole websites dedicated to sharing inane problems with the world; sites like, whitewhine and my personal favorite: 5 Downtown Abbey Problems to Make Your First World Problems Look Like Malaria.  Oh how I chuckle.

love it. I feel like I know this kid.

But for all the humor wrapped up in pointing out these misfortunes precipitated by wealth and privilege, I am actually very unsettled by the whole concept. My biggest complaint with #firstworldproblems  is that it seems to have created a hierarchy of suffering. Over time, our reactions to pain, frustration and misfortune have become legitimated or illegitimated based on relative terms. My problem is serious because it is worse than someone else’s; or your problem is not serious because it is not as bad as mine. While this branding of #firstworldproblems may provide a healthy reality check to those trapped in their own wealthier than thou bubble, it creates untold complications for the myriad socio-economic layers. You see, the world is not actually divided into the haves and the have-nots. We are much more diverse than that. And while those dwelling at the top of the dog pile may be growing in humility by looking down at those below them, the #firstworldproblems temptation is for everyone else to look one level higher, and to manipulate the relative nature of their suffering to justify complaint. I feel like the only way to explain this is through diagram. Below is a ladder of socio-economic privilege as it relates to food, demonstrating the relative nature of "suffering." My advanced apologies to those who are actually qualified in explaining such things.

Do you follow? I'm suffering because I have it worse than the person above me, who is suffering because she has it worse than the person above her, who is suffering because she has it worse than the person above her. And so on and so forth.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m guilty of this too. I’ve been known to complain about food, clothes, money, entertainment, transportation, and the number of hours my child spends crying – all relative to those who seem to have it easier. I am certainly not calling the kettle black. I pass through seasons where I find myself spending a little too much time looking “up;” comparing myself to those who are one, two or three rungs above me and starting to feel like maybe I’ve been dealt a raw deal. I start thinking in terms of “life would be better if I had electricity,” and, “I can’t believe how long I’ve had to go without cheese,” and, “all I want is for my grass roof to stop dripping on me at night.” And I compare my situation to those who live with the lights on and have a refrigerator with cheese in it always and whose roof never leaks. It’s during those seasons, when I allow myself to fall prey to the prowling lion of comparison, I feel justified in my complaint. I feel justified in being disgruntled, downtrodden, unhappy. And every bit of it is sinful.

Because here is the truth about first world problems. The complaining that accompanies said problems is not wrong just because these complaints are the top of the pile. Complaining about first world problems is actually no more shameful than complaining about second or third world problems. All problems of all people of all situations of all time have the potential to lead a person into sin if the response is complaint. 

Give thanks in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES for this is God’s will for you.

Do EVERYTHING without complaining.

Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. I’ll say it again, REJOICE!

This is God's Word! You see, it no more justifiable to complain about eating nshima every day than it is to complain about having to eat casserole left overs three times this week or having your favorite bistro close for renovations. Paul’s words were penned not only as an encouragement and a challenge, but also a standard of holiness for every single child of God that we might keep our comparison-driven hearts in check:

I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who gives me strength.

Believers, we aught to be maturing in our attitude towards the problems of this life, and making progress on the journey towards contentment. When we justify our ungrateful hearts by pointing to the ones with more, easier, faster, whatever, we deny the power of Christ in us. 

There is in fact only one instance in which the Word tells us to go ahead and be pitiful – and that is directed at those who do not believe in the resurrection. 

In first Corinthians 15, Paul writes, "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

No resurrection, no savior, no redemption, no heaven, NO HOPE. 

"To be pitied," and therefore actually complaint worthy.

A complaint structure based on relative "complainability" would put the one who is about to take his last breath at the bottom of the ladder – surely he can complain, can’t he? But even the dying man has a reason to rejoice if he knows that Christ has conquered death and secured his place in paradise.

So then, first world, please don’t give permission to the rest of us to pity ourselves because we are not as rich, well dressed, tech savvy, fat and happy as you are. We too must take upon us the yoke of Christ, every day, and look not up or down, right or left, but at the light and momentary troubles that are achieving an eternal glory which far outweighs them all.


  1. Just what I needed this morning. Thank you for your wisdom and encouragement. Happy Independence Day, Heroes Day, and Unity Day!

  2. Bethany, I've often repeated the phrase, "Comparisons are odious!", but never have I seen such a thoughtful expression of just how odious they are. Thank you for thinking so deeply and expressing yourself so eloquently and biblically!!