Drives me nuts. There are too many times when my dog, Max Power, sits at the door and annoyingly whines because there is another dog or some person or something going on outside that he wants in on. I don’t like whining. I don’t like it that the dog has more toys than he needs, plenty of food, generous times of walking him, and more lap-time and pets than you can imagine – and he still sits at the door and whines like some disadvantaged creature who needs to be out there. I think my dog suffers from FOMO.
FOMO is an acronym that means “Fear of Missing Out.” Well, then, my dog has it bad. The term “FOMO” came into being because of social media. The “fear of missing out” is anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, usually aroused by posts seen on social media sites. It happens when Zelda sees on social media that Xena or a group of friends are having some interesting, rewarding, or amazing experience and Zelda is not a part of it – she’s missing out. More than that, now Zelda is glued to her electronic device with the apprehension and compulsion to keep abreast of all that is going on in her social media world so that she will not miss out on the fun, the experience, the happenings that are going on. Zelda is determined to make the right decision about her time that allows for the maximum amount of enjoyment in life, and not to make the wrong decision that will leave her whining at the door with anxiety about what’s going on outside. Thank God Max Power doesn’t have an iPhone!
Maybe we need a “come to Jesus meeting” about FOMO – not about social media (because that’s not the heart issue) but about the age-old condition of envy. Its envy not about a physical object that another person has that you want, but an experience that someone else is feeling that you or I want to feel and experience.
The garden of Eden was the original place of FOMO. Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered relationship with God and each other. Everything they needed was right there in front of them. But the serpent put his post on FaceGarden: “God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree [the one tree in the garden they were not allowed to eat from]. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
The temptation was the fear of missing out – the anxiety that God was having a party for which they weren’t a part – that somehow God was holding out on them. The term “FOMO” might be a recent acronym, but the compulsive feelings and behavior is nothing new. Previous generations called this believing that “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” It is the social envy over what we do not have, instead of resting content with the largess which we do have.
I’m neither here to rail on the sin of envy, nor to be a crank-a-saurus about technology and social media. Yes, the Scripture says that envy rots the bones. But the gracious way to look at this is that people, all people everywhere, crave meaningful connection with other people. We were built and designed for relationships and enjoyable experiences. It’s just that, like anything in life, we take a good thing and fixate on having more – more friends, more experiences, more connection, more fun, more memories.
Today I was reminded of the middle of one Bible-verse tucked away at the end of a small epistle by the Apostle Paul: “Encourage anyone who feels left out.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, CEV). We can turn FOMO on its head by seeking to include, help, and come alongside the timid and the marginal, the outsider and the loner, the newbie and the plain-Jane, rather than only seeking to get our foot in the door of society for ourselves. Unlike listening to the serpent, who encouraged an aggressive taking of the forbidden fruit, we can invite and include others into our little garden of paradise. The Holy Scripture calls it “hospitality.”
Our spiritual development is not only formed through solitude and silence, but through active communal inclusion of the other person into our lives. Showing hospitality is the true antidote to FOMO. It is the focus on others which alleviates the anxiety of the age we live in. Maybe Max Power just needs a few of the people he hears outside to be invited inside. After all, why pluck some other tree’s fruit when there’s plenty in my own garden.