First World Problems
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night. “
“Over and over, when I ask God why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, “You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet.”
His questions and his prayers are so innocent.
Every night I enter my five-year-old son’s bedroom to say goodnight. And every night we say our prayers together. But before we do, I do my best to explain who or what we are praying for.
“There was an earthquake in the country of Nepal today,”I tell him.
The questions start coming.
“Where is Nepal?”Luke asks tenderly.
With my limited geographic knowledge, I illustrate where the country is located.
“Can I see it?”
I show him a picture on my phone.
“Dad, what’s an earthquake?”
“Sometimes the earth shakes really, really hard.”
He starts shaking his bed.
“So my bed would shake back and forth like this, right?”
“It would shake a lot like that, but probably even more.”
“Would it go side to side or up and down?”
“I’m not sure exactly. I’ve never experienced an earthquake before. Sometimes buildings collapse.”
“Can I see a picture of the buildings collapsing?”
I show him a few pictures of the aftermath.
“Did people die?”He asks.
“Yes, over 5,000 people died.”
“How many is 5,000?”
“It would be like the number of people who attend a hockey game. “
“Whoa, that’s a lot of people.”
The conversation shifts for a few moments to his T-ball practice that was cancelled earlier in the evening.
“Dad, maybe the people didn’t make it to our practice tonight because they thought it was going to rain.”
“Maybe buddy, I’m not sure.”
“Daddy, why are their earthquakes?”
In that moment, I’m sure I could have given him a brief scientific explanation, although I’m not a scientist, but I thought about giving him the honest answer:
“I just don’t know buddy, I don’t know.”
“Does God make earthquakes?”
I thought about passing the buck and telling him to ask his mother in the morning. But I take the bait and answer the question, knowing many more questions would result.
“Sometimes bad things like earthquakes just happen.” I answer. “But the important thing for us to remember is that God is always with us no matter what. God is with us when things are hard. And we know that things can be hard for all of us, right?”
“Yeah.” he says. “I wish things didn’t have to be hard.”
“When things are hard, that’s when our belief in God is really important.” I remind him.
Our conversation continues for another minute or two.
We have been fervently praying for a few individuals from our church. He reminds me, nearly every night, to pray for them by name.
His prayers are simple, yet profound. We finish.
“I love you, buddy.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
A Rich Mullins song he recognizes from church comes on the radio.
We sing along.
Our God is an Awesome God
He reigns from heaven above,
With wisdom, power, and love,
Our God is an Awesome God.
The stanza repeats. I leave his room. I can’t get the chorus out of my head.
The parallels are staggering. Here we are singing about our God being an “Awesome God,” and yet, there is so much pain and suffering happening around the world.
I don’t want my kids to grow up. I want them to stay young; I want them to stay naïve to the world’s suffering. But then again, I don’t. I want them to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Several weeks have passed since that evening. The headlines haven’t changed. Still so much pain and suffering.
The alarm breaks the silence and stillness of the night. Morning has broken.
I head downstairs to the kitchen and grab the coffee jar. The jar is empty.
“Come on!” I grumble.
Opening the fridge, I look to see if we have any eggs. No eggs.
“Come on! No eggs!!”I grumble some more.
I turn on my computer and glance at the day’s headlines:
Beheadings in the Middle East.
Riots in Baltimore.
NFL Player Tom Brady Cheats.
The last headline grabs my attention because I am a sports fan. I open the article and read about Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, about how he is accused of deflating a football during a championship game last season and the suspension and fine that will result. I read that article as if it somehow fits with the rest of the struggles happening elsewhere around the world.
I turn on Facebook. The walls of Facebook are inundated with pictures of Brady, not the earthquake in Nepal, not the Christian beheadings, not starving children in Africa. Just Tom Brady, NFL quarterback. One of the captions is about how Patriot fans are starting a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe to pay off the fine. I scroll down a bit further. A guy I know who works as a missionary in Haiti posted a comment about the story.
I have kids in Haiti who I still can’t get a $30/month sponsor to help feed and send to school … and NE Patriots fans are giving money to a GoFundMe account to help the Patriots (worth over $2 billion) pay the $1 million fine the NFL gave them … ladies and gentlemen, America in 2015!
I laugh at his comment and look at the clock. I’m running late so I head upstairs to take a quick shower. It’s hit or miss these days whether or not we will get a hot shower in our house. Today is a miss.
“Come on! No hot water!!!”My grumbling continues.
I leave to go to the office. I pull out my laptop computer. It doesn’t work.
“Come on! Are you serious right now!!!”Grumbling has officially taken over my day.
Later that afternoon, I’m in the middle of writing a story for this book. I take a break to read the latest headlines and weather reports.
“Another 7+ earthquake in Nepal.”
I pause to say a very quick prayer.
“Lord, have mercy.”
I keep writing.
The day ends and I head home. Traffic is heavy. It’s 85 degrees outside and I don’t have air conditioning in my car. My car sat in the sun all day and now, inside my car, it feels like 105 degrees. We come to a standstill. The sweat starts pouring down my face.
“Come on! Why is it so hot!!!”More grumbling.
I turn on the radio. The car antenna picks up one station, a political talk show.
“Come on! Can’t there be one good station to listen to?!!!”
I arrive home and walk through the door. We have a leaky kitchen but now I see a leak in our living room too. Water is seeping through the ceiling tiles. I sprint upstairs to the bathroom. Sarah is fervently throwing towels down, one after another, to try and sop up the mess.
“I was making dinner for 10 minutes. Ten minutes!!! The twins decided to plug the drain in the sink and the leave the water running.”
Rapidly, I head back downstairs to sop up the mess in our living room.
“Come on! Seriously, come on!!! This is the last thing we need in our life right now.”
We get the mess cleaned up and sit down to dinner.
“Are we eating chicken again?!”one of the kids whimpers. This time they are the ones moaning and groaning.
“We need to be thankful for what we have. There are many people around the world who don’t have food to eat for dinner.”
I say it emphatically, as if our young children can comprehend the magnitude of the problem.
Later on that evening, I start reading an article about how Christians hold the largest amount of wealth, something crazy like 55% of the total world’s wealth.
I continue reading. The World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty, living on less than a dollar a day.
The magazine article hits me like a 2 x 4 between the eyes. I reflect upon my day and realize how much of my day was spent grumbling and complaining about all the petty “problems” I was faced with when so many others around the world have it far worse. Our family has coined a phrase for our petty problems here in the western world. We call them “First World Problems.” First World Problems are those things that are problems for us only because life is comfortable. For example, a leaky roof, a limited dinner menu, no A/C in the car, a computer that works slowly, no milk or eggs in the refrigerator or coffee in the pantry, and deflated footballs, are all “First World Problems.” None of them are life-altering issues. Today my “First World Problems” controlled much of my day, too much.
“Lord, have mercy,” under my breathI whisper this prayer for a second time today. I close the magazine.
The kids are restless. Its bedtime again and I enter Luke’s room. His innocent questions and prayers continue.
Once again, I explain the day’s headlines and who or what we can pray for. I tell him about the second earthquake in Nepal.
“Did more people die?”
“Yes, Luke. More people died.”
“Dad, do you think God can stop earthquakes?”
I chuckle because his questions are so perfect.
“God is very powerful. But there are a lot of things that happen that don’t have a good explanation for why they happen. Earthquakes just happen. Do you remember what I told you a few weeks ago after the first earthquake in Nepal?”
“I do. God is with us.”
“You got it buddy. God is always with us. Always. When life is hard and doesn’t make sense, He is with us. You want to know something that is really cool? “
“The really cool thing is that we are given the chance to be God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s body in the world. We are given the gift of being able to show people who are having a hard time–God’s love. Isn’t that awesome!
“It is awesome!”
“So people like those who are suffering after the earthquake, or starving children, or grandmothers who are lonely, or bullies at school, all have the chance to see and feel God’s love because of us. How cool is that, that God gives us a job to do for others?!”
The song “Awesome God”comes on the radio again.
We sing together.
Our God is an Awesome God.
He reigns from heaven above,
With wisdom, power, and love,
Our God is an Awesome God.
How do we teach our kids about First World Problems? How do we teach ourselves about First World Problems? How do we talk about “leading a compassionate life” without talking about those who live in poverty, those who have been disenfranchised, those who have been malnourished, those who suffer, those who live in loneliness, those who feel broken—those individuals for which life is really, profoundly hard?
As author on parenting issues L. R. Knost, has written,
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
We can’t lead a compassionate life without showing compassion to those who need it most. There is a reason that more than two thirds of the Bible talks about caring for the needs of those who live in poverty. For most of us when we think of caring for the needs of the poor we think of sending a check to support a worthy cause, serving in a soup kitchen around the holidays, or going on a week-long mission trip to some far off country to build houses. Certainly those are noble and worthy efforts. But Jesus asks so much more of us. He invites us to be a part of His revolution of love to those who need it most. Jesus said,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, quoted Mother Teresa:
“Calcuttas are everywhere if only we have eyes to see. Find your Calcutta.”
Where is your Calcutta?
Compassion calls us all to identify the Calcuttas around us, those places into which we can go to share the grace and love of God; Compassion asks us to go to the places where pain and suffering are most acute and make a home there.
Where can we be the eyes, the arms, the legs, the feet, the mind, the heart and the ears of God? How can we see Jesus in everyone around us, in everyone we meet?
Who can we invite to dinner who otherwise would eat alone tonight? How can we show our children the importance of creating community for others who need to know that they are valued and loved?
When we send a check to a charity, perhaps we can also send a letter with it, to be shared with those who will receive our money – to remind them that we see them as real people, not merely a distant figure far away. How about fostering a real relationship with them, even from a distance, so that they feel the greater power of our care and grace?
How about visiting a homebound neighbor? Sit down next to her and ask her to tell you about her day, about her favorite things, about her opinion on an event in the news. Let her know that she has a friend and that her life, feelings and opinions matter.
These are Calcuttas.
Where can you see more of them?