My FOMO friends! (Most of us clicked on this article simply because we’re afraid of missing out.) We say yes to absolutely everything — everything we can and can’t possibly do. We suffer from the complete inability to say “no” — to every request, every opportunity, every social gathering. In short, we live an exhausting existence.
The “fear of missing out” is getting worse. Thanks to our social-media-interconnectedness, there are countless more activities we never knew we might be missing.
But I’m realizing FOMO is merely a symptom. At its root, FOMO is a sign we’ve already missed out on something much more important than Friday night’s festivities. And it has a lot more to do with identity than we as Christians would like to admit.
We love Jesus most days, we even do a lot of good work for Him. But we are not secure in our deepest purpose, so we frantically try to make ourselves valuable and unforgotten — to our work, to our friends, and to everyone else whose affirmation we stand on.
The New Normal
It was a time when I was in desperate need of reclaiming my life on lots of levels. To do this, I had to insert some brick-wall boundaries into my day (or more accurately, into my night — because, let’s be honest, without a good night’s sleep, I sin a lot more, pray a lot less, have less patience, and overall I’m just not a good person.)
I had to practice saying “no” to nearly every invitation that required breaking my self-imposed, 24-year old “bedtime.” Not kidding. I even rehearsed on my roommate, over and over: “Thank you, I can’t. I’m going to bed.”
Why is that so hard? (Besides the fact that we don’t want to feel lame?)
As millennials, we just don’t say “no” that often. We don’t like turning people down, we flee directness, we hate finality, so we don’t commit. We say, “Maybe,” just in case something better comes along. Or we say, “Sure,” and then wonder why we have reputations for not following through.
What We Really Want
For me, (as much as my pride hates to admit it) when I have the hardest time saying “no,” it’s because I want to be liked by those who would recognize my “yes.” I look to them — and their perception of me — for my validation and identity. Yes, I know God loves me and all my worth comes from Him, but in the moment, I’d rather feel important.
We live in a world that tells us to create our own identity (which is completely exhausting, by the way), instead of receiving it as gift from the Father.
What’s worse is that we buy it. Even as Christians (we’re not unscathed by the culture), we believe this message, and so we float aimlessly through our week, “tossed about by the waves” as St. Paul writes, saying “yes” to every opportunity for fear of missing out on something that could have brought meaning to our lives, or at least could have been Instagram-worthy.
We like to keep ourselves busy — really busy — trying mercilessly to avoid that moment of silence in our day that threatens to leave us alone with ourselves and uncover our deepest insecurities. And in those moments where we do find ourselves alone, we make forceful attempts to keep the noise going — the radio is on, the text messages are chiming at our fingertips, the newsfeed is scrolling… anything we can do to keep us from acknowledging the loneliness that exists deep within our hearts.
The Importance of Loneliness
But it’s a purposeful loneliness. Why? Because, as another missionary told me on my first day in FOCUS, “Adam had to be alone in the garden to know that he was made for love.” Loneliness points us toward dependency. (Don’t you hate that sometimes?!) It’s true. Like an infant at baptism, even before we are at all capable of loving back, we find ourselves completely dependent, sustained, and identified by the Father’s love. Without this, we have nothing. With it, we have it all.
We have our purpose in life and have the freedom to say “no” to anything that does not necessarily point us toward that purpose. Without it, all we have is the infinite appetite for distraction. In distraction, we will never be at rest — at leisure — in our souls, and without leisure, we can never know God:
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
I’ve heard before that the psalmist here is not offering an arbitrary suggestion, such as “wear green, and know that I am God.” Instead, it’s a conditional. In other words, if you be still, then (and only then) will you know that I am God. …That I am your Father, and you are a beloved son or daughter.
To the extent that we allow this stillness of soul, we begin to know who we are.
“Let Your No be No.”
Here’s what I’m trying to remember: The beauty of saying “no” is that it reflects freedom, and freedom reflects a heart at rest. We rest in the truth that God is our Father, and our identity comes from Him —not from the ones we hung out with last night.
We have the freedom to graciously decline because we are not slaves, even to our honorable job titles or fun, social circles. We do not have to be “tossed about” by every passing invitation or the fear of missing out because we know who we are and what our purpose is. We can rest in a disposition of soul that knows the art of living and the art of loving.
We don’t have to watch ourselves live anymore — we can simply live.