First-world problems are still problems

In light of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6 (“Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.”), I said yesterday that when it comes to prayer, we shouldn’t worry that our prayer requests and petitions are too trivial, too small, or too self-centered for God.

If our problems are big enough to make us worry, they’re big enough for God. We have a hard time believing this, however, and our prayer life suffers.

As if on cue, Christianity Today‘s Caryn Rivadeneira wrote a blog post illustrating the problem nicely. Last summer, after her power went out for several days, she voiced her frustration on Twitter. She said she was looking for “tea and sympathy.” Instead, her comment got slapped with a popular Twitter hashtag: #firstworldproblem. Here’s one of my favorite examples of a “#firstworldproblem”:

I can totally relate! For a few years, we had this same problem at my in-laws’ house. And we complained frequently!

The idea behind #firstworldproblem is probably a good one: We wealthy Westerners are spoiled. We have much to be thankful for. Often, we have the luxury of being bothered by things that the poor and oppressed of our world would love to be bothered by.

Indeed, #firstworldproblem has done much good in the way of helping us remember that no matter what challenges and heartaches we face, most of them seem quite small compared with the global problems that starve people of the most basic necessities of life. It’s a fun way to acknowledge our spoiled Western natures and catch ourselves mid-tantrum. #firstworldproblem is a lovely reminder that instead of mumbling and grumbling, we ought to be doing a bit more thanking.

But there’s a downside: If we look at every problem we face in light of the world’s Big Problems—like famine, disease, genocide, political oppression—then what right do any of us have to complain about anything? All our problems by comparison become small, petty, and selfish. In fact, they aren’t problems at all. And they’re hardly worthy subjects of prayer.

Suddenly, we’re back to kind of prayer perfectionism I complained about yesterday. And that can’t be right!

Read the whole article. She says makes the point better than me. But I especially like this part:

Sometimes our first-world problems are still problems enough to derail us—and not just when hurricanes hit. Sometimes even distress at not having chai or being sick of Chips A’hoy signals a deeper hunger that’s worthy of lament. Being too quick with the #firstworldproblem can communicate that nothing that happens in the first world is actually a problem. And that’s a problem, because it’s not true.

Jesus tells us that in this world, we will have troubles. Not just the poor among us, not just those in certain parts of the world. These words are not just the disenfranchised and the oppressed. They are words for us all.

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