I have a friend who has spent a significant amount of time living and working in a third- world country. Often, when I’ve taken an opportunity to complain or show frustration over some relatively trivial problem, such as the Bluetooth speakerphone in my car not working properly, he will look at me with a wry smile (as only a good friend can) and say “I don’t have time for your first-world problems”.
That simple phrase quickly brings me back to reality. I have visited and worked in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Haiti – the poorest nation in the world, where 80% of the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day. The poverty there is stark and troubling.
On a recent trip to Haiti, a thunderstorm caused our flight to be re-routed moments before landing. We had to circle for more than an hour before being sent to the Dominican Republic, where we re-fueled, sat on the Tarmac for another hour, and then returned to land in Port au Prince 4 hours behind schedule (I am six feet four inches tall, so I do not like to spend any more time on commercial airplanes than I have to). Landing so late meant missing our ride (and dinner), and waiting for a long time in the dark before finally getting transportation to the mission where we would be staying. It was a long day.
The next morning, we took the rough mountain roads to visit a church in a little town called Calabasse. During the service, a woman walked in who was very distressed. She shared with the congregation that the storm the previous night had destroyed her home, leaving her and her six children with nowhere to sleep. They had lost almost every bit of what little they had.
My heart sank as I remembered myself begrudgingly sitting on that air conditioned airplane, watching a movie on my iPad, and wondering how long the very inconvenient storm was going to delay us. Not once did I imagine that the storm had impacted another person in a way much more severe than it did me, or that the tight and uncomfortable seat on that airplane might be one of the most safe and comfortable places to be at that moment.
How easily we forget that so many of the problems we have are simply side effects of the blessings in our lives. Whether it’s a delayed flight, a difficult client, or a slow Internet connection – these are all symptoms of a life filled with blessings, and a set of problems that millions of people would gladly trade theirs for.
A week or so later, I had returned from that impactful trip and was re-engaging in my usual work routine, including the daily commute. I was on the way home when I received a call from a friend – “What are you up to?” he asked.
“Sitting in traffic” I replied. And then, remembering my trip, quickly added “…being thankful.”
“For what?” he asked.
“I’m thankful that I have first-world problems.”