In my work as a Spiritual Director, I am trusted with the details of people’s struggles. I am often surprised when I hear people dismiss their struggles by saying:
“Oh, first world problems.”
I’m not sure why this term applies. I mean, okay, really if you’re just complaining about something trivial, I get it. But, often there is more going on beneath the surface and it’s really best not to dismiss it.
Third world people may struggle for the want of clean water or a simple medication to fight an infection. First world people may struggle to find balance with a corporate work load, to be attentive to their family or friends.
On a scale where, one suffering is compared to another suffering, there is a level of severity that can be measured, yet stripped of this measure BOTH struggles touch something internally. Both struggles have value in their context. Both struggles are catalysts for seeking and trusting God.
Let’s compare two Gospel stories where Christ encounters people with struggles: the woman with the issue of blood, and the rich young ruler. These could be seen as third world, and first world, problems.
The woman is weak and an outcast. Anyone who has contact with her becomes “unclean.” Her chronic bleeding isolates her from community life and worship.
The rich young ruler, on the other hand, follows the Law and lives in comfort. Yet, he is uncertain that his life choices will bring about eternal life.
Her plea to Christ, “My life is unbearable! Heal me!”
His plea to Christ, “My life is unbearable! Give me assurance of eternal life!”
What is Christ’s response to the woman? He commends her courage and the risks she took in seeking an answer to her struggle. Then Christ heals her. “My daughter, your faith has restored you to health, go in peace.”
What is Christ’s response to the rich young man? Does he judge him and chastise his struggle? “Young man, get over it! First world problems! Suck it up and be grateful? You know I just healed a woman in the next town who has been bleeding for 12 years. Who are you to complain and moan about your self-centered, inner yearnings for the assurance of your salvation?”
No, Christ does not minimize or pass judgment on the young man’s struggle. He does not compare the severity of his pain to the pain of others. No, Christ meets this young man where he finds him. He treats him with dignity and validates his pain. Then, in love, Christ provides an answer to the young man’s struggle. Perhaps not the answer he was hoping for, but an answer none the less.
We all hurt the same. If you dismiss your pain, you also dismiss the power of the Holy Spirit to work in it, to strengthen you internally. Don’t wallow in self-pity, allow God to use whatever struggle you have to help you understand yourself and move you forward on your journey.
We are eternal beings working out eternal longings. In this life, the irritating agent of our struggles maybe as different as the desire for clean water, or the desire for confidence in life choices, but all your struggles will work for your good, if you let them.
Do you need some help moving past a struggle? Spiritual Direction can help with this movement. Click here to learn more about Spiritual Direction and how it can help you.