Can’t we all identify? We’re late for work because we can’t settle on an outfit from our jam-packed closet. We’ve already left the drive-thru before we realize they forgot the ketchup packets. Our wallets won’t close neatly because they’re too full of cash and cards. We have “nothing to eat” in our fridge.
“First world problems” are amusing — blogs, tumblrs, and even rap songs are wildly popular. I have to laugh when I catch myself complaining about those trivial annoyances that could only happen in the world’s wealthiest nation. But at the same time, I sense a nagging disappointment in myself—is that selfishness and entitlement really lurking beneath the surface?
Those mountainous “first world problems” are reduced to molehills when I hear stories of “third world problems” from my immigrant and refugee friends. My Bible study recently welcomed a family of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their stories of what they’ve endured are horrific. A father killed in the violence, a mother separated from four of her children. Hiding in the wilderness, their survival depended on drinking urine and scavenging for food. In my ESL class, one of my Syrian students recently broke down in tears, telling me that she had lost her house back home to a bombing. Her brother was held hostage and tortured.
When I hear stories like these, I’m caught between conflicting desires. Part of me wants to bury my head in the sand: I don’t have to deal with those issues here in the U.S., so why should I worry about them? But deeper down, I know ignorance isn’t bliss; a heartfelt burden to help beckons me to do something.
Though I can’t fix the world’s problems, I’ve seen that simply getting to know the foreigners in our communities is a powerful way to experience God’s grace and redemption. Hearing a Congolese refugee praising the Lord for the way he brought her family through those horrors causes my heart to be thankful for God’s provision. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)
Exchanging stories of God’s faithfulness in the midst of adversity is a beautiful thing. Paul later urges the Corinthians to “make room for us in your hearts” (2 Corinthians 7:2). As I read those words, my context is vastly different from Paul’s. In my life, “making room in my heart” means listening to and caring about those who have fled hardship in their countries to make a new home here. I pray that God will use the little things, like lending a compassionate ear to a Syrian woman grieving the violence in her country or a Mexican high schooler faced with his father’s impending deportation, to point people to himself, for he is an “ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Though I still grumble about having to hunt for my camera charger in my drawerful of electronics or get upset when a visitor parks in my designated spot, I’m becoming more conscious of the heart underneath these “first world problems,” and through relationships with immigrants and refugees, God is working on my heart and correcting my perspective.
Iris Clement is a graduate of Lee University and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has lived in Romania and Colombia and has an incurable case of the travel bug. In Raleigh, Iris teaches English as a Second Language to adult immigrants and volunteers in an outreach program to Latino middle and high schoolers.
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