First World Problems Are Real Problems

Gabriella is in her first year of middle school. She’s just got a toe in adolescence and already with the tears? And I think Really? Geometry is so traumatic for you? Seriously? That grumpy guy with the locker next to yours is ruining your day? Ruining?

And I also think You want real problems? Move to Nairobi or Kolkata or Kempala.

Then the neck of my guitar snapped. And the van didn’t pass inspection. And the hot water heater burst. And all of it this week.


And I think Really? A few repairs are so painful? Seriously? Spending money is irritating?

And I also think You want real problems? Haven’t you been to Guatemala City and San Salvador and Manilla?

Compassion Philippines


Vultures circling over Guatemala City Dump

At breakfast this morning Sambhaji said he didn’t want to go to school. He wanted to go to Holiday World instead. “One more day of school,” I said, “and then we go to Holiday World!”

“How many days we stay for Holiday World?” he asked.

“One day. All day saturday!”

He slumped over his cereal bowl, sighed long and low and stuck out his bottom lip. “I want two days,” he grumbled.

And I thought Really? One day at Holiday World is so bad? One day at an amusement park instead of two is ruining your morning?

And I also thought You want real problems? You should go to…wait a minute.

Indian woman bathing in the street

Real problems are the problems we have right now right where we are.

The hardest part of traveling overseas isn’t traveling overseas. It’s coming back home. So often, once we’re back in the first world, we feel guilty for having a bad day. After all, our refrigerators are full, our children are in school, our water is clean, our church worships freely.


Just as from an airplane every skyscraper below looks small, surely, from God’s vantage point, all human struggle looks the same in a sense. It’s all unmet expectations. It’s all opportunity to trust or grumble, to ask for help or go under alone, to pray or worry, to be served or struggle independently, to learn and know God more intimately or lose faith and hope.

Real problems are the problems we have right now right where we are.


Gabriella sponsors a child her age in El Salvador. She knows well the problems that child faces daily. She’s seen pictures and videos from the developing world and heard my stories a hundred times. But Geometry and that bully feel like real problems to her. And they are. She’s burdened by her own high standards. And words from a boy can hurt. Perfectionism and insecurity are real problems no matter what causes them.

I’ve been in homes all over the world that are smaller than my bathroom. I know what real poverty looks like. But when everything broke this week I felt like less of a man for not having the money to fix it all immediately. I felt unworthy of my family’s respect and love. Fear is a real problem no matter what causes it.

Take a kid out of poverty and fatherlessness and call him son. Fill up his cereal bowl every morning and he’ll still have problems. And they’ll seem like real problems to his five year-old newly-first-world brain. They are real. Discontent is a real problem no matter what causes it.


Comparing our problems to those in the third world seems like a good idea at the time doesn’t it? Seems like it will keep us grateful. Seems like it will keep us generous.

But this is keeping only God can do. Only knowing God can keep us. And in our real problems right now right where we are we can know God.


Share This Post: