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First World Problems

We’re hanging out in North Vancouver over the next few weeks (house sitting for some friends who are off to Europe) so I’ve been straining to acclimatize myself to lazy mornings on a sun-drenched patio overlooking the ocean with good books and strong coffee, leisurely strolls through lush mountain forests, meandering through breathtakingly manicured multi-million dollar neighbourhoods on the way to pick up some bread for supper, etc., etc. It’s been challenging, but I will do my best to bravely soldier on.

In these surroundings, it’s very easy for perspective to fly out the window—for “problems” to take on a perceived significance that is enormously disproportionate to reality.

This morning’s newspaper goes on and on about how a proposed bike path through one of the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods has the locals some kind of agitated. The argument from the residents seems to go something like this: “Bike paths are great, don’t get us wrong, and we love the idea of a greener, healthier, bike-ier, and more generally virtuous city, but could we put them somewhere, well, else?? Somewhere that doesn’t go in front of my house or force me to drive an extra block on my commute? Or temporarily inconvenience me during construction and interfere with my view of the water?” Um, yeah.  I can see why this would be deeply distressing.

Yesterday a friend linked to an article about the difficulties of raising children not to be whiny entitled ingrates in a culture of wealth and privilege. It’s a good read—one that is simultaneously entertaining and mildly unsettling. How do we train our kids to have anything resembling a sense of global perspective in a world where they lack nothing?

Come to think of it, how do we train adults in these matters? Like, say, ourselves? That waiting ten minutes for a $5 latte or struggling to find a spot on the beach don’t really count as problems in a world where many people go to bed hungry each night. That having to go through the onerous task of figuring out with remote works the Apple TV and which one works the surround sound isn’t really that significant in a world plagued by war and injustice and preventable diseases that go untreated…

Uh, hold on a sec..

[I don’t know why won’t the iTunes library sync properly with the rest of your devices! I know, it’s just so frustrating, right?!!]

Ah, first world problems.

I think often of my trip to Colombia last year, of the people I saw there, of the challenges they faced, of the virtually unending struggle that life seemed to be for them. I think of squalid tin shacks and poverty and intractable land issues and violence and the many other daily realities that they faced. The Colombians I met tend to come to mind at the most inopportune times—usually when I am mired in the most ridiculous of my first world “problems.” They are unwelcome but desperately necessary intruders.

They remind me that feeling sorry for myself because I can’t afford to live in North Vancouver isn’t really a legitimate response in a world that looks like ours. They remind me that the ubiquitous technological frustrations that seem to be a part of daily life these days probably shouldn’t affect me the way that they do.  They remind me that the abstract theological issues that occupy so much of my mind so much of the time really amount to little more than the distractions of the privileged. They remind me that my “problems” aren’t really problems at all.

They remind me to pray for those who have real problems around the world. And to repent.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go try to decide between the beach or the suspension bridge for the day’s activities. Besides, it’s getting hot on the patio and my shirt has begun to irritatingly stick to my back. And the sunlight off my laptop is driving me nuts. And my battery is running low. Can you believe there’s not one power outlet on this entire patio?! Who designs these things anyway?!”


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I hear you! Living in Germany, I got operated on my spine within days and sent to a rehabilitation facility for three weeks afterwards, to get me back on my feed. I often couldn’t believe how irritated some patient were over thinks like the food or because they had to wait some extra minutes to see their doctor. Wanted me to send them to a third world country to get some mental cure as well!

    July 20, 2013
  2. grateful #

    Was born/raised on the North Shore (N. Van/W. Van). After almost a couple decades away in traveling ministry living off of peanuts and perpetually sleep-deprived, I had to come home again for my health’s sake and settle down. But the wealthy folks at home who had known me for longer than anyone, didn’t know or love me even near as well as total strangers I met in an Anabaptist church in a humbler city. My first Christmas back “home” I spent alone while family vacationed in Hawaii and local friends who knew I was alone were strangely quiet. The next Christmas, still alone, I walked into an Anabaptist church on Christmas day with no plans, but because of the love and invitation of strangers, my heart was more full by the end of that day than it had been in quite some time. Then I learned that theology can indeed at times make all the difference. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the cold spires of opulent churches and homes. The community I live in now isn’t near as wealthy as where I was raised, but they seem so much richer in love.

    July 20, 2013
    • Thank you for sharing your story here. There is much to be learned from your experience, and for the wisdom you have obviously gained in the process.

      July 20, 2013
    • mike #

      July 21, 2013
  3. mike #

    ….Good Post!

    “In these surroundings, it’s very easy for perspective to fly out the window—for “problems” to take on a perceived significance that is enormously disproportionate to reality.”
    Ironically, I’ve had some of my most powerful “come to Jesus” experiences while away on vacation. For me,there is something about being away in a unfamiliar leisurely environment that almost always facilitates a sobering time of reflection on some of the unspoken realities of my life.

    July 20, 2013
    • Me too, Mike… Me too.

      Somehow being in an unfamiliar space can clear away some of the mental/spiritual furniture that’s been cluttering up the place, and allow you to see things anew, ask important questions, and take stock of where things stand and where you are going…

      July 20, 2013
  4. Ryan Robinson #

    We were just without power for about 30 hours here in Hamilton; that’s always a good way to remember how spoiled you are. There was one substantial element of legitimate reason to be concerned – with no A/C it was really hot and we had a friend couple with their 8 month old visiting – but otherwise every time I was tempted to complain I had to catch myself and realize how ridiculous it was. I’m still deliberately trying not to complain much as I do the cleanup now, including throwing out a bunch of food gone bad in the fridge.

    July 21, 2013
    • I’ve had some similar moments with some of the flooding here in southern AB this summer, Ryan. We didn’t get hit very hard (most of the serious damage was further north), but the basement got a bit wet and we were inconvenienced in a few minor ways. It was (and is) pretty easy to allow our “trials” to seem quite a bit larger than they really were.

      July 22, 2013
  5. In his book “More or Less”, Jeff Shinabarger calls them “rich people” problems.

    Should I wear the brown shoes or the black shoes
    Verizon or AT&T
    My car won’t start
    Could I get that hamburger without pickles
    My kid didn’t pick up his toys again

    Perspective is an important antidote for preventing that sense of entitlement.

    July 23, 2013

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