What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?                                                                              Romans 8:31-32

I’d like to think that years of youth ministry have made me savvy with teenage girls and their unique lingo. However, a few years ago, I sat amongst a group of sixteen-year-olds and was exposed for the out of touch, thirty-something that I am.  My exposure went something like this:

As one girl described her upcoming weekend plans, an obviously disheartened girl next to me responded with a phrase I had literally never heard before, “Wow, major FOMO!”

“FOMO?!?” I responded, obviously in the dark.

“Um, yeah,” the girls replied, almost in unison. “Fear Of Missing Out!”

Fear of Missing Out

I guess I was the one who has been missing out. But not any more. Since that day, the acronym, the phrase it signifies, and my conversation with those girls has weighed heavily upon me. Not because it exposed me as an ancient relic. And not because it exposed all the acronyms I was familiar with to be “so 1997.” It has weighed upon me because it exposed my experience. It exposed my heart.

This fear of missing out has been true of me for as long as I can remember. As a child it manifested itself in harmless and innocent ways— like falling asleep on the floor by my bedroom door anytime my parents had friends over because I did not want to miss a second of the action. As I got older, it looked like 3-way calling, never missing a slumber party, and not studying abroad in college for fear I’d miss out on something back at home. Today, fear of missing out in my grown-up heart is not so harmless and not so naive.

In my grown-up heart, this fear manifests itself by constantly saying “yes” even at the expense of my family. It reveals itself in the obsessive checking of my smartphone. It shows itself in preoccupation with and jealousy over other people’s lives—envy of their jobs, their vacations, their social lives, their marriages, their kids. Fear of missing out looks like hard-heartedness toward people whose lives I often see only at a distance because they have something I so desperately think I want. It looks like discontentment and the insatiable longing for “the next thing”— the next job, the next move, the next paycheck, the next stage in my child’s life.  And it shows itself in anger— I want to say at my circumstances— but truthfully, it’s anger toward the Lord.

That’s when I see my fear of missing out is deeply rooted and much messier than I ever thought. On the surface, my fear may seem to be about how I see and think about my experiences. Yet underneath, it’s about how I see and think about God himself. Ultimately, it’s a fear and belief that God is holding out on me—that he is withholding from me something or many things that are good, that I need, that I am entitled to, or that I deserve.

FOMO in Scripture

If you are anything like me, we often find when we look in the Scriptures that we are not alone in this story, this struggle, this mess. Was this not Adam and Eve’s story too? God had given them everything he made and said that it was good. And yet, they set their eyes on the one tree not given to them for food, listened to the voice of the serpent, and believed the lie, “God is holding out on you.” And so they ate…

Was this not the Israelites’ story in the desert? God heard their cries in Egypt, he delivered them from Pharoah, he led them out of slavery, and he dwelled in their midst. Yet in all this, they believed God was holding out on them. They wearied of his provisions in the desert, and yearned for all they had in Egypt.

Was this not their story in Canaan? God fulfilled all his promises. He brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey. He gave them victory over their enemies. He ruled over them as a shepherd and a king. And yet they believed he was holding out on them. They looked with envy at the other nations and demanded a king.

Was this not David’s story? He was the king. He was a man after God’s own heart. There was nothing that was not his. Except the beautiful Bathsheeba, for she was another man’s wife. He believed God has holding out on him. He brought her to himself, ordered her husband killed, and made her his own.

What the Gospel Says to Our FOMO

The stories could go on and on, for it is the story of the human heart. And yet it is a story God speaks into, a story that God steps into in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul gives an argument in Romans 8 from greater to lesser: God gave us what we needed most and what was most difficult to give— his very own Son in our place on the cross. Why would he then withhold from us anything else that is good for us— those things we need far less and are much easier for him to give? Puritan, John Flavel, describes it this way:

 Surely if he would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sake all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal which is good for them.

In Jesus, God speaks mightily to our hearts, though often discouraged, discontent, and doubting they may be. In Jesus, God shows us that though there are things he may withhold, he is never holding out. In Jesus, we are reminded that he is good, always good, supremely good. And in Jesus, the way has been opened to come to the Father, the one who is all we need, in whose presence is “fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we see this FOMO in our own lives, when we find ourselves wondering when and where we are missing out, let us look into our hearts to see what really lies there. And then, let us fix the eyes of our hearts upon on Jesus and on the cross, that we might see again and again the gracious character of God, who in the giving of himself has given us all we need.

About the Author:

Caroline Scruggs

Caroline is a pastor’s wife and mom to three young kids. She has an
MDiv from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and experience teaching and discipling high school, college, and adult women. Her heart is to help women understand how the story of Scripture makes sense of the stories of their lives. She and her family live in Chattanooga, TN where they serve with Reformed University Fellowship at UTC and are actively involved in their church, North Shore Fellowship.