First World Problems

Through the miracle of technology, I write to you from the beach in Curacao, where I am spending spring break with my family. But I’m only assuming that’s where I am, because I intend to schedule this post so that I can take a Lenten break from social media while I’m there.

I would have been more sure I’d be in Curacao if I hadn’t received a phone call around midnight last night informing me that my Monday flight to Curacao had been cancelled and my trip would be delayed until Tuesday. When I finally woke up enough this morning to see what they were saying my heart fell; one less day in the tropics, at the beach, with my family, having nothing but fun.

Here’s the thing – and I knew it – the airline cancelled my flight to put important new software on the Boeing 737 Max 8 airplane that I would have been on to get to Curacao on Monday. I have been praying for the families of those who lost their lives on the flight in Ethiopia. I listened as I drove my child to school to a flight safety expert say that American Airlines was working on a software fix and he’d travel anywhere on a flight with the update, but he would not put his 5-year old grand-daughter on one without it. I know it’s important, and yet I was still angry that MY plans were being ruined – simply ruined – because of this change.

It’s a bit absurd, right? My trip would be ruined because I would only get to spend three days instead of four in Curacao. Really?  Because there are plenty of people who won’t eat in the days I’m in Curacao. And there will be people in Africa still mourning for their loved ones on a plane that I would not have to risk my life on.

It’s a tedious and terrifying spiritual balancing act to rejoice in the things that are wonderful in our lives and in the world, while keeping in mind the tragedy and tumult that so many face daily. I was not created for a life of suffering and sadness, while I also cannot simply turn a hard heart to the very real suffering that I and others face. We read Mary Oliver’s poem Every Morning last evening in my writing class and I marveled even before my “ruined” vacation at her haunting word-shaping, world-shaping walk on that terrible tightrope.

Is a part of that balance appreciating all the more that which is beautiful and fun and joy-filled, so that we can cling to it in the overwhelming sadness?

I suppose my trip to Curacao could yet be cancelled – though if you are reading this post, it probably was not or I would have cancelled the post. I would lose a great deal of money, which would be sad. But not as sad as losing my family in a plane crash – or in any of a thousand other terrible tragedies. It would be a first-world problem, due less concern from others than the many third-world problems that haunt our supposedly all first-world community.

At a recent conference, Matthew Fox shared a story. He was gathered with several Native American women and they were speaking of their grief. As an older white man, he suggested that he didn’t belong there – his grief did not compare to theirs. He says he was blessed by their response. Something like: “If you have sorrow and grief, you belong here.”

There is a no-judgement quality to the spiritual life that does not rank sorrows and joys and give extra points to those with higher and lower scores. In my tradition, Jesus calls us to suffer with the one who weeps and laugh with the one who rejoices – our burdens are lightened and our pleasures multiplied not by judgement, but by sharing.

So I share my joy with you in this time – I am so excited to spend however many days I can with my family in the sunshine, experiencing the joy of Curacao. And I share my burden, that I can’t fix all the places in the world where things really are ruined by real problems no matter whose world they’re in. And I share my hope with you. That we can multiply the joy and lighten the burdens, working together.

How do you deal with disappointment in your life? Can you fit it into a larger narrative that also includes times of joy? How does the first-world/third-world dichotomy feel to you? Some people are bothered by the barriers they feel it erects and the stereotypes it promotes. Have you ever thought about this if you use those terms? Can you measure one person’s sorrows against another’s or does sorrow fall into that “no-judgement” quality of the spiritual life? Who can you share your joys and your sorrows with?

When I get back, I’d love to touch base with you about your joys and sorrows. Sign up online for a free first spiritual direction session – but notice there aren’t any slots until March 25th!

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