Inside my head most days: Good morning, Olivia! Want to catch up on everybody’s life? Suzanne went skydiving this weekend; you should book more adventures like Suzanne. Ari is studying abroad in France; pretty sure living in the U.S. your whole life is lame these days. Oh, and Hannah is three years younger than you and she just got engaged. Aww, look how happy she is! Yeah, you really need to get on it. You only live once, you know. Look at all the opportunities you’re missing. #liveyourbestlife #thriving #yolo
YOLO? More like FOMO.
I’m no mind-reader, but I’d wager this comparison chatter creeps into your head from time to time, too. I can’t be the only one for whom the popular mantra “You Only Live Once” can easily become an anxiety-fueled “Fear of Missing Out.” Especially if you’re a fellow soak-every-ounce-of-life-out-of-life-er.
If we’re honest, most of us opportunists like this part of our personality. The goal of this article isn’t to lasso every dreamer back to earth — rather, to suggest that there’s a fuller way to live than aimlessly chasing every new opportunity. Typically, harmful mindsets lurk behind this way of thinking. To put it bluntly, FOMO is a cute name for an ugly problem.
The problems with FOMO
- FOMO forgets God’s sovereignty.
I’ve heard it said that under every fear is something we are seeking to control. Throughout college, I had a dream to spend a summer interning at children’s homes in Kenya. For several years I thought about this desire every single day. But major health struggles slammed the brakes on international travel, especially to a country where safe food and water can be scarce.
At first, my thoughts toward Kenya motivated me to seek healing for my body. But soon motivation turned to idolatry. I was so stuck on my own plan that I failed to see God’s hand redirecting my life. While it was a good aspiration, Kenya was not part of His story for my college summers. Looking back, I see that God asked me to surrender my dream, but in that process, He began directing me toward other pursuits. One of these was interning at Focus on the Family, which led to freelance writing and this article.
- FOMO sidelines us from our purpose.
Not only does FOMO keep us from surrendering to God’s sovereignty, it also fixates our eyes on the future. When we’re thinking about the opportunities we don’t have, guess what we’re not thinking about? The opportunities we do have. It’s a nearly surefire way to miss God’s purpose for us in the season we’re in, with the people He’s given us, in the place He has us for today. We struggle to be content and present where our feet are planted.
When I was a child, my parents invited our extended family over for New Year’s Eve. Little me was so thrilled that the “cool high school cousins” would spend time with us littles! I remember feeling like a princess all day. But then came the text: One of the cool high school cousin’s cool high school friends were ringing in the New Year together…and did she want to join? Being away from home, she had to decline; she was stuck at our house. What had been fun just a moment before suddenly felt second-class. The mood shifted. The rest of the night was OK, but we could tell she wished she were elsewhere. She was missing out, and it stole her attention from the people in front of her.
I don’t write that to judge her. At times, I’ve been the cool cousin presented with a seemingly better opportunity — and I have struggled to be present. But whether it’s something we’d rather be doing in the moment or an all-consuming hope for the future, FOMO’s talons of “what if?” will snatch us right up out of our present reality if we’re not careful.
- FOMO leaves us discontent and anxious.
Rather than considering the lilies and thanking God for His provision, we fret about our circumstances while envying others’. FOMO exposes a disordered appetite: one that desires the comforts of this world above the things of God. An appetite that comes in a package deal with our sin nature. A problem that seems oh so minor until life confronts us with suffering that pauses our adventure-seeking, bringing the state of our sick heart into the light. So how do we adjust our thinking?
The solution to FOMO
- Overhaul your priorities.
The way you answer these two questions will shape your life and Christian walk:
WHO am I living for?
WHAT am I living for? Happiness — or abundant, full, missional life?
Imagine that a stranger got to watch you spend your time and read your thoughts for a day. Terrifying, I know. What conclusion would they draw about your priorities?
A life centered around making yourself happy will never be secure. Culture teaches that we have control of our destiny — but it’s simply not true. With or without Christ, we will all face disappointment. But when Christ is the priority, no matter what comes your way, a life of fullness is not outside of your grasp.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Christians have the corner on the market for fullness of joy. It is found in Christ’s presence. We still have earthly longings, but we realize even the best earthly moment without an eternal hope is completely empty. As a believer, I can enjoy the beautiful moments in my life with peace, knowing they were not meant to ultimately satisfy me. On the flip side, I can endure the hardest trials of life through the same eternal hope.
- Fix your gaze.
The Apostle Peter and I would’ve been friends —or maybe the type of enemies that come from being too similar. Either way, I can relate to him. My meditation over much of the past year has been this account in John, chapter 21: Peter and Jesus are mid-conversation when John saunters by. Soon Peter is preoccupied with knowing what Jesus has in store for the other disciple. I love Jesus’ gently convicting response:
“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, ’Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ’Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ’If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’”
I can imagine Jesus interrupting my own thoughts:
Olivia, if it’s my will for him to go on African missions trips, what is that to you? You follow me!
Olivia, if it’s my will for her to be in a relationship right now, what is that to you? You follow me!
Olivia, if it’s my will your friend is healed from her chronic illness but yours remains, what is that to you? You follow me!
- Be present.
These days I’ve been struck by the seasonality of life — both mundane seasons and those of excitement and change. Busy seasons. Slow seasons. Easy, hard, somewhere in the middle seasons. The screen-worthy ones, and more often the Tuesdays.
Wherever we find ourselves, there’s purpose in the present. Rather than focusing on what I could do tomorrow or what I’m not doing today, I’m finding the most purposeful living is found in faithful stewardship of each moment. To be clear, vision for the future informs the most beneficial use of our time in the present, so don’t forget to dream! But in the messy parts where the outcome is yet unclear, seek to live in God’s revealed purposes for your today, knowing He promises more for those who are faithful stewards.
- Flip the script.
Maybe you have a “Kenya” of your own: a dream that’s been delayed or denied because of a limitation out of your control. But limitations aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
A river can’t flow without banks. Its limitations are what give the water direction and strength to flow purposefully. Without banks, there would only be flooded land. In the same way, God directs our lives through our limitations. He uses them to strengthen our character and focus our efforts in a certain direction. Learning to live abundantly right where you are begins with leaning into God for His redirection through your limitations.
Hang in there when the answers don’t come right away. I’m certainly waiting for unfolding in some areas of my story, but I know we have a God who draws near to those who seek Him. God is not going to hang us out to dry. He is not going to forget to give us the life He has in store for us. But His purposes may take time. His clarity, direction and redemption may require patience on our behalf. In the meantime, He promises us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
Which brings me to the one kind of FOMO worth having: spiritual FOMO. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
God has had good purposes set out for me — and you — to walk in from the beginning of time. Let’s not miss them.
Copyright 2023 Olivia Feller. All rights reserved.