Mirror on the Wall
Conversion, Humility, Life, Metanoia, Transformation
1

Vanity of Vanities = First World Problems

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So one of the things I love about living in my neighborhood is that we can bike–as a family–to Church, to friends houses, to the pool, to my husband’s work.
Biking to Swim Practice

Sunday morning at 9:45am. I’m all excited that we’re actually walking out the door with plenty of time to bike the 1/2 mile and get to the 10 o’clock Mass without rushing.  Everyone has bike helmets on, I’m loading stuff into my basket, and my husband grimly tells me that my front tire has a hole in the tube.

So we walked.  Quickly.  In the Houston heat and humidity. And got to Mass at 9:59am. Sweaty, but on time.

First World Problems.

The first time I heard the phrase “First World Problems” was on FaceBook, in a meme.

first-world-problems

I didn’t know it was a meme.  I read the shallow complaints common to American society and flipped out.  [Me: THESE ARE NOT PROBLEMS!] A couple of FaceBook friends gently explained that it was an expression and what it meant.

First World Problems, also known as “White Whine,” are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.*

A couple of weeks ago, my Mom explained that she heard the phrase for the first time.  It changed things for her: How privileged am I to have THESE problems?

So when I heard the readings today – readings I have heard a gazillion times before – I felt like I was being called out on something.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23)

The word vanity translates as “breath” or “vapor,” as in breath of breath or vapor of vapors.  Designating something that lacks substance, in effect, meaning “nothing of nothing-ness.”

First World Problems.

Though I was disappointed that we couldn’t bike to Church–and that I’ll have to buy a new tube to fix the tire–I was fully aware that this wasn’t a real problem. I take a look at my FaceBook feed… and I see a lot of complaining about things that aren’t really problems.  It’s so easy to complain.  Too easy.  And all too often, I join in the misery.

Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

I read the book A Complaint Free World a while ago… I love the theory (complaining less; appreciating more).  I also recently lost a dear friend to cancer… there’s nothing quite like watching your friend’s newly widowed husband having to care for three kids under the age of nine to put things in perspective for you.

There’s a lot of things that we expend our time, energy, money, and effort worrying about that really don’t matter.

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
Colossians 3:1-2

Throughout Scripture, Jesus calls us to conversion.  The Greek word is metanoia.  A change in our whole being; a transformation grounded in repentance.  Metanoia is less about rejecting earthly things and more about recognizing what really matters.

What if, instead of complaining about things that don’t really matter, we saw each inconvenience as an opportunity to embrace something new.  Or simply thought “How privileged am I to have these problems?”

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. (Ps 95:7-8)

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