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BY Simcha Fisher
You've heard the phrase "first world problems." It means problems that are so trivial that only rich, pampered citizens of highly developed nations would even encounter them, much less consider them problems. Some of them are just silly: "This air freshener experience is so disappointing!" or "I forgot my phone when I went to the bathroom, and I was bored the whole time I was pooping." And some of them are chilling: "OMG I want to dieeeeee my parents got me the iPhone 5c even after I told them over and over I needed the 5s OMG OMG life isn't worth livinggggggggggggggg."
I see people, especially women, preemptively heading off criticism by calling their own problems "first world problems." It's understandable. We don't want to be spoiled brats, and all we have to do is turn on the nightly news to realize that there are millions of people who would give their left arm to have our silly little problems -- assuming they actually have a left arm.
And yet, suffering is suffering. Recently, a first world friend complained of a truly difficult week (dealing with car problems, home repair, doctors, teachers, and so on) and then appended the ubiquitous, "I know, first world problems," implying that she wasn't really suffering at all. And my sister Abby Tardiff, who has the ability to cut through B.S. without breaking a sweat, answered,
By that logic, only one person on earth would be allowed to claim he was actually suffering. We can always find someone who is worse off than us. That doesn't necessarily prove that we're not suffering, just because we're suffering less than someone else.
But still, didn't Pope Francis recently tell us to quit complaining?
[A] Christian who constantly complains, fails to be a good Christian: they become Mr. or Mrs. Whiner, no? Because they always complain about everything, right? Silence in endurance, silence in patience.
Of course he's perfectly right. Constant complaining drains the life out of everything that is good. It lets the darkness seep into everything that is good, until you have nothing left but darkness.
But does that mean we need to go around with a cheerful grin pasted on our mugs all day long, no matter what? I don't know about you, but that would not help me in the slightest (and yes, I have tried!). If we find ourselves in a situation that tries our patience, exhausts us, makes us angry or helpless, it really doesn't help to say, "Yes, but at least I'm not starving in a lice infested mud hut!" All I get from that is deeper in my funk: not only am I better off than 90% of the women in the world, I'm an ungrateful, whiny brat! Somehow, this thought does not catapult me into good cheer.
Here's the key: there's a big difference between admitting we're suffering, and constantly complaining about it. it's perfectly fine to admit that we're suffering -- yes, even if someone else somewhere in the world is suffering more. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with saying, "This stinks." But what matters is what you do next, once you look suffering in the face and call it for what it is.
Do we think about what we can do to change things? Whether there's anything we change or not, do we offer the situation up to God, because we know that God uses every part of the buffalo? Do we turn to Him at all? There's a world of difference between crying along, and going to Christ with our tears.
We all know that Christ can carry the heaviest burdens for us. Do we also believe that He wants us to turn over the lighter ones, too? He does. When Christ suffered and died, it wasn't only for the people whose sorrows passed a certain weight limit. When John the Evangelist saw his vision of the end of the world, he saw Christ putting all things straight again. All things. "He will dry every tear," he says. Every tear. That means the first world tears, too.