Alison Griswold

What Are Your #FirstWorldProblems?

#FirstWorldProblems is my favorite internet meme and hashtag. I will never get tired of how we mock ourselves with observations like 'my freezer makes my ice cream too cold to scoop' or 'the cleaning lady vacuuming is really noisy' or 'I want to play Minesweeper, but I'm on a MacBook Pro.'

Last month, I joined a mission trip to Mustard Seed Communities in the 'third world' (or developing country) of Nicaragua with 19 teens and adults. Founded in Jamaica in 1978 by Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon, their mission is to care for the most poor and vulnerable in society, especially those with physical and mental disabilities who have been abandoned. We stayed and worked at a home that provides a permanent home for about 25 children and young adults and assisted with the construction of their new chapel.

This work consisted of breaking rocks with axes, moving piles of dirt with wheelbarrows and then smoothing it out with rakes and coffee cans filled with cement. While working, we started inventorying our new 'third world problems.' They started as funny: 'My ax isn't a body spray, and it's really heavy to use,' 'I thought I was tan, but then I showered and it turns out I was just dirty' or, 'there's two knobs in my shower, but they both just make cold water.' However, all comedy aside, we were struck by just how different the lives of those in Nicaragua were.

We observed workers moving rocks barefoot because they only had one pair of shoes and needed them to last. Families who lived in a landfill without electricity or running water, hoping to make a dollar a day sorting trash. As the mission director, Julia, told us, 'I know that you think that you have problems in the U.S., but compared to what we have here, you live in heaven.' While we had grown up hearing about those in need, our first hand encounter was sobering.

Julia also explained that even though the challenges in Nicaragua were great, she felt that families grew closer as they supported one another and that the people of Nicaragua were much quicker to recognize their dependence on God than we were.

That evening, as our group reflected, we agreed that between Julia's description of families in Nicaragua and witnessing the gratitude of the children at Mustard Seed, we realized that while our 'stuff' – our hot water, reliable meals, transportation, and a roof over our head – kept us comfortable, it also kept us from realizing that we were still completely in need of and dependent on God.

Blessed Mother Teresa was a nun who began working among the poor in Calcutta, one of the poorest cities in the world. Yet when asked, she said she believed 'the spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.' I'll continue to joke about my 'first world problems,' but after visiting Nicaragua I realize that my greatest first world problem is my spiritual poverty – my failure to realize that I rely on God for everything I have and everything I need.

In your prayer time, examine your life. Ask yourself:

  • What are your 'first world problems'?
  • What distracts you from realizing your total reliance on God?
  • What can you be more thankful for?
  • How can you grow closer to your family?
Alison Griswold

About the Author

I love being Catholic, coffee and buying shoes on sale. I'm afraid of catching things that are thrown at me, heights, and food on a stick. My first pet was a fish named Swimmy, whom my mother found creepy and flushed down the toilet when I was at school. She told me he died of natural causes.