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FOMO: Biblical Perspectives

“You totally missed out!” This sentence apparently strikes fear and anxiety in the hearts of many teens more than anything else. The acronym that describes this, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – is defined by a group of researchers “as the pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, …characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”

While studies indicate that FOMO is more prevalent in people whose ages range from 18 to 33, most of the youth indicated they felt anxious if they did not know what their friends were doing and more so if their friends were having fun or doing something more interesting without them. Researchers have also highlighted a real correlation between the number of hours spent on digital technology (social media) and higher levels of FOMO leading to stress, anxiety, and depression. Social media causes us to keep our attention focused on what others are doing or experiencing – even those we do not know personally and from anywhere across the globe. The endless feeds and reels reinforce the need for our life to be filled with idealistic scenarios making it seem others are leading perfect lives. This has the potential to further redefine our identity, with constant comparisons leading us to lower levels of self-content. FOMO makes life increasingly miserable as one progresses to mid-life and beyond as the realization of lost opportunities with the passage of time hits harder. Inevitably, all of this has been shown to impact our mental health.

Though the acronym FOMO was coined in the early 2000s and research has linked it to social media, various biblical scholars have been right in pointing out that FOMO has its birthplace right in the garden of Eden. FOMO was the crafty Serpent’s tactic to sabotage the relationship between God and man resulting in the fallen world with sinfulness abounding. Every day we are enticed by the empty pursuits of attaining levels of self-sufficiency where God will finally become unnecessary. The same underlying principles are even exploited in running successful marketing campaigns the world over!!

The word of God is timeless and relevant and offers us perspectives even on the aspects of FOMO and fallouts that we face today. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, narrated by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, is a story that highlights the reversal of FOMO. The rich man has everything but Christ and after he dies, he realizes he has “missed out” on what was essential. In a world where relativism abounds, sin is celebrated, and with many deconstructing their faith, this parable provides us the perspective that impacts us for eternity. The most important FOMO is that we do not miss out on knowing Christ, walking with Him, living for Him, and being the fragrance of Christ. We can also take comfort that in eternity, God makes up not only for whatever we genuinely “miss out” but also whatever loss or suffering we experience in this momentary life.

The wisest King, Solomon, confesses to not “missing out” and experiencing everything the world had to offer (Ecc. 2:3-4, 8-11). Finally, he concludes that being good, content (Ecc. 3:12,13), and fearing God (Ecc. 12:13) is what matters in the light of eternity.

In a world of constant comparisons and onslaughts on identity, we need to be on a constant vigil and coach ourselves to enjoy our identity in Christ and not on our accomplishments, experiences, or what we have missed out (Phil 3:8). Instead of living our lives comparing ourselves with others, we are to enjoy our Identity in Christ in comparison to what we are without knowing Him. In addition, practicing the joy of being content in all circumstances (Phil. 4:11b-13) can be the perfect antidote to anxiety and dissatisfaction. We can do this when we recognize that God is Sovereign, and uses every aspect of our life for accomplishing His purposes and for His glory (Rom. 8:28). His grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9) and His presence is promised in our lives (Mt 28:20). As John Piper says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him”.

Jesus narrated several parables towards the conclusion of his public ministry that is recorded in Matt 24, 25 – the focus is on being faithful, wise stewards, even as we anticipate the Master’s return. We need to ensure we are investing and multiplying what the Lord has entrusted to us. In a world where we are constantly distracted with curated idealistic pursuits and accomplishments, we need to evaluate what matters in the sight of the master when He returns. Our plans, priorities, and pursuits need to be gospel-centered and missional, having a larger purpose than just pleasing ourselves.

It is also crucial to recognize that FOMO impacts our mental health. Counselors recommend the need to evaluate our social media usage, schedule technology breaks, mute all notifications, and pursue mindful practices where we ensure our complete focus on the task at hand. In a world of increased distractions and endless streams, the stewardship of our attention needs our
focus and can be rewarding.

Just as the adage – “looks can be deceptive”, photos, reels, and seemingly idealistic lifestyles that we see can just be a trailer of high points and good times, but cannot provide us with comprehensive and accurate insight into every aspect of other’s lives.

Deeper, meaningful, personal relationships with family and friends need to be valued, prioritized, intentional, and cannot be traded for the virtual. The pandemic has led to an abundance of spiritual/biblical content online, which we can passively consume. This can make us weary in pursuing fellowship where we are to be challenged and sharpened as we do life together with His disciples and not in isolation (Heb 10:24, 25).

Being pragmatic enables us to realize that we can’t pursue or experience everything given our time constraints and priorities. While we bear the burden of constant intrusions, living wisely enables us to recognize that time is valuable and needs to be redeemed (Eph. 5:16). Instead of fighting FOMO, we can embrace reality by opting for JOMO – the joy of missing out. We need to define our lives by what we are doing rather than what we have missed out! The potential to spread the contagious disease of FOMO by heaping guilt on others for missing out on something we have already consumed and flaunting our relevance needs to be avoided too.

As we continue to address issues confronting us today, being salt and light, Christ-Centered, and shaped by scripture, we can seek to be relevant by taking the lead in addressing prevalent issues such as FOMO on our campuses. The trends and issues of the day are also opportunities for us to share how the word of God has enabled us to overcome these in our lives. The impact of enhanced digital reliance, on our behavior and mental health, cannot be ignored. Sharing our struggles and finding strength through the fellowship that we enjoy with his disciples should help us find resilient scripture-based solutions. May God empower us to be those who understand the times, guiding us with the knowledge of how to respond and act (1 Ch 12:32).

Prabhu Dhanaraj hails from Mysore and involved with UESI since 1997. After completing his M.Tech in Information Technology, has worked in the corporate IT sector. He served as the Executive Secretary of UESI K & now part of UESI National Communication & Networking Department as Graduate Secretary.
He resides in Bangalore along with his wife, Deborah who is a special educator. Interests include gardening, apologetics, teaching, and counselling.

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