My 65-year-old neighbor puts my trashcan out on the street for me every Friday morning.
It’s the smallest gesture, but it means the absolute world to me.
My next-door neighbors are originally from Nigeria. Earlier this year, they learned that my husband had stage four cancer, and the wife of the pair rushed out one day to meet me when I was getting my mail.
She stopped me to say that if I need anything, absolutely anything at all, she would be over in an instant. She went on to say, “I don’t mean that in the American meaning of ‘anything at all.’ I don’t mean that I’ll drink coffee with you, like you all do here. In my country, when someone needs help, we help. There is no worry about privacy. There is no inconvenience to it. When our neighbor needs us, we are there, no matter what.”
I appreciated the conversation, but I didn’t take her up on it. Nevertheless, they saw their 25-year-old neighbors struggling with a hard disease, and they jumped into action anywhere they saw a need. What they saw was that some Friday mornings I forgot to take my garbage can out into the street for pickup, so they jumped in to serve.
I’ve replayed this conversation, paired with this kind gesture, in my head over and over since then. I’ve thought about what she said about how Americans help other Americans. We do always insist on taking someone out for coffee. When someone is sad, hurt, devastated by life, we take them to Starbucks. That’s how we offer our due diligence. That’s how we make things better for them. That’s what culture tells us to do.
And I can’t help but think about how bizarre it is that we have come to believe that the best thing we can do to help someone in immense pain is to grant them an hour of our time over a $5 caffeinated beverage.
Don’t get me wrong here- when my friends have treated me to Starbucks over the years, I’ve needed it. It means a lot for someone to dedicate time toward you, toward your friendship, toward your pain. I am in no way undermining the power of a coffee date. Sometimes those hours, that space to vent, is exactly what a soul needs. I think my problem is that somewhere down the line, a coffee date alone became enough. We, Christians in America, learned how to half-serve the one thing we are really called to do- love.
We can now package love with an hour of our day, five dollars out of our pocket, and I don’t think that’s really the kind of love that we are called to show, at least not completely.
In America we have this part of us that shouts two toxic words: privacy and inconvenience.
People who want to help are afraid to offer it because they don’t want to invade someone’s privacy. Someone who needs help is afraid to ask for it because they don’t want to inconvenience someone. And the flip side is, a lot of times when we do need help, we don’t want to ask because we don’t want someone to invade our privacy, and when we have help to offer, we don’t necessarily want anyone to take us up on it because it is inconvenient.
This is just how things are here. Our image is important, and we don’t want people seeing a part of our world that is less than desirable- so we play the privacy card.
Our time is important, and we don’t always want to spend it in places that aren’t particularly enjoyable- so we play the inconvenient card.
And then, to be honest, I think we fail. I think in both cases we fail as Christians. We fail as neighbors. We fail as people.
We fail at the one thing we are called to do. We fail at love.
I don’t know the fix to this. But I do believe there is a culture shift that needs to be explored here.
In America our priorities are pretty skewed. We’ve known this for a while, and we’ve learned to laugh at it. We call it, “First world probs.”
We want to throw our phone across the room if we have to wait more than ten seconds for Facebook to load.
Our day is ruined when the Starbucks Barista doesn’t add the classic sweetener to our iced coffee.
We know this is petty. We know there are way bigger things to worry about out there, so we find a way to laugh it off, and say, “First world probs.”
But after just one five-minute conversation with my neighbor, I can’t help but wonder if maybe our first world problems, are a lot bigger deals than we give them credit for.
Maybe our first world problem isn’t that Facebook won’t load, but that we can spend hours a day on it, hours that we could instead spend with each other, or learning, or even with silence.
Maybe our first world problem is not that Spodify is lagging, but that we don’t know what silence is because we don’t have to. We can’t take a car ride, we can’t take a walk without noise, music, podcasts.
Maybe our first world problem isn’t that the WiFi doesn’t always work, but that we can’t get anything done without WiFi. We can’t function when left alone with our own minds and souls.
Maybe out first world problem isn’t that Google advertised something paid over the thing we were actually looking for, but instead it is that we can have absolutely anything we want, any information, at the tips of our fingers. Because of this we don’t have a clue how to critically think, contemplate, or meditate.
Maybe our first world problem is that we value our privacy and convenience over our neighbors.
Maybe our first world problem is that we can and do rely on everything, every medicine, every technology, every creation over our Creator.
We don’t know our options, our power, our ability to declare things boldly in Jesus’ name, because we don’t always think that we need to.
We have option after option and it isn’t until we spend days, months, years perusing these options to no avail that we finally choose to lean into something bigger, something holistic, something like faith. Or even worse- we just give up completely.
Here in America, unlike in most of Nigeria, we have options, medicines, chemicals, and for some reason that keeps us from leaning into anything else, even when these chemicals are statistically more likely to kill than to help.
Maybe our first world problems are a much bigger deal than we give them credit for when we laugh them off. Maybe our first world problems are distracting us from the life we’re supposed to live, from the love we are supposed to show, from the people we were meticulously designed to be.
A few months ago, we took our neighbors up on their offer. We told them what the doctors were saying. We told them that a lot of people out there think Andrew is on his way out of this place. We asked them to pray for us. Without missing a beat, they marched over, holy oil in hand. They walked into our home, and they got to work. They sang, they prayed, they cursed the cancer. They showed up. When push comes to shove, when we ran out of options, we could care less about privacy. They could care less about inconvenience. We needed them, and they showed up.
That’s what their culture tells them to do.
That’s what their faith tells them to do.
That’s what, beneath it all, I think we are all called to do.
And in my opinion, that’s what lovely looks like.