Thomas J Parlette
“The Fear of Missing Out”
Luke 10: 38-42
There’s a new term that you may have heard advertisers use, and it refers to a recent phenomenon in our society. It’s a term called “FOMO” – the fear of missing out. It’s the idea that someone somewhere is having a better time than we are, living a richer life than we are, attending a better party or taking a better vacation than we are, and that we’d better cram as many experiences into our life as possible so we don’t miss out on anything.
The fear of missing out is popping up in other areas of our society as well. When the stock market was soaring in early 2018, many experts attributed it in part to FOMO – people were afraid of missing out on great returns on their investments. Later, many of them wished they had put their money somewhere other than stocks as things slowed down.
The origin of FOMO seems to have come from an article written by a young man named Patrick McGinnis at Harvard Business School around 2003. Patrick and his buddies were young, ambitious, and reasonably well off. In their early twenties, they experienced the horrors of the 9/11 attacks and then the collapse of the dot.com and tech stocks in 2008, which drastically affected the stock market. These experiences created a lot of anxiety in these young people, and a desire to live life to the fullest, because you never knew when it would all fall apart.
Patrick noticed that he and his friends were cramming their social schedules with as many parties, events and adventures as possible. But they didn’t seem to be enjoying these experiences. Instead, they had a nagging feeling that somebody somewhere was having a better time than they were. Patrick wrote an article about this situation, and he called it FOBO – the Fear of Better Options. This later became the phenomenon FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. Patrick describes I this way: “All you wanted to do was live life to the fullest at every second. You felt the need to do everything all the time because you’d seen your own mortality.”(1)
Texting and the rise of social media made FOMO even worse. Suddenly, you could let friends know that you were at the coolest new restaurant in town, or you could post pictures of yourself at a great vacation spot, doing some amazing activity like zip lining or bungee-jumping. Now everybody felt this instant pressure to do more, to search for some new and amazing experience or adventure that they could impress their friends with. And this led to a new issue, one that counselors called “decision paralysis.” Suddenly, people were so overwhelmed by their options and so driven by the Fear of Missing Out that they literally couldn’t make a decision, couldn’t commit to anything, because if they committed to one party, or place or option, then they might miss out on other, better options. As one of Patrick McGinnis’ friends says “FOMO is actually an amazing acronym, because it captures the essence of life.”(2)
In our passage for today, Jesus addresses the fear of missing out on living life to the fullest. Except Jesus’ definition of living life to the fullest is a little different than what ours may be. In our story, two sisters, Mary and Martha, open their home to Jesus. Martha wants to be the good host, so she rushes around fixing the meal, setting the table, taking care of all the details. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, people like Martha are vitally important in our lives. Some of us would be in real trouble if we didn’t have a Martha in our lives to make sure things get done. Still, the hard work and attention to detail of the Marthas of this world often gets overlooked or goes underappreciated.
There was once a mother who was trying to explain the health benefits of a colorful meal to her family. “The more colors you see on your plate, the more variety of nutrients there are,” she said. Pointing to their dinner, she asked, “How many different colors do you see?”
“Six,” volunteered her daughter. “Seven, if you count the burned parts.”(3) Totally unappreciated.
Another woman says, “I have my own system for labeling homemade freezer meals. Forget calling them “Veal Parmigiana” or “Meatloaf” – If you look in my freezer you’ll see labels like “Whatever”, “Anything”, and “I Don’t Know”. That way when I ask my family what they want for dinner, I’m certain to have what they want.”(4) Whatever, Anything, I Don’t Know.
It’s really tough to be a good host, to take care of other’s needs, especially if no one seems to appreciate your efforts.
Martha’s sister, Mary, wants to be a good host too, but she has a different way of approaching it. She sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him teach. When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister isn’t helping, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – indeed only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary reminds me of a wonderful story about an 11 year old boy named Tyler Sullivan who skipped school one day – but it was for a good reason. Former President Barack Obama was visiting his hometown for a big event, and Tyler’s dad was introducing the President to the crowd, so Tyler got to tag along.
Imagine his teacher’s surprise when Tyler brought a note in the next day – on Presidential letterhead. It said, “Please excuse Tyler. He was with me. Barack Obama, the President.”(5)
Jesus defends Mary neglect of her hosting duties by saying, “Please excuse Mary. She was with me. Jesus, the Messiah.” Jesus isn’t trying to make Martha feel guilty – he’s trying to teach both sisters about the essence of life. Life is short. You only get one go-around. Don’t get lured into using up your energy on what doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters. It is the better option, And it can’t be taken away from you. The best cure for the fear of missing out is sitting at Jesus feet.
Jesus is saying here, “Don’t miss out on an opportunity to know God.” Our society promotes backwards priorities. We promote achievement and consumption and cultivation of the self over our relationship with God. Yet God is our Creator – the Way, the Truth and the Life. What good is our life if it is not reflecting God’s glory and following God’s plan?
Lewis Grant came up with the perfect term for what happens when we put temporary, selfish ambitions ahead of our love for God and others. He calls it “sunset fatigue.” When we come home at the end of a day’s work, those who need our the most, those to whom we are most committed, end up getting the leftovers. Sunset fatigue is when we are just too tired, or too drained, or too pre-occupied to love the people to whom we have made the deepest promises. And that includes God.(6)
All of Martha’s rushing around to serve Jesus was draining her. She was developing sunset fatigue. If she didn’t stop and just enjoy Jesus’ presence, then he would end up getting the leftovers of her love and attention.
Jesus is also saying here, “Don’t mess out on the opportunity to give love and to receive love.” After all, that is the true essence of life.
A pastor named Stuart Sacks tells of serving a church in Paraguay. One day, a native Mala Indian man named Rafael came to visit Sacks. When Sacks asked him what he wanted, Rafael replied in his language, “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.” Rafael just wanted to sit on Sack’s porch and be near his new friend. He just wanted to enjoy his presence. (7)
Many of us consider worship as a weekly obligation. We come to church because it’s expected, or it’s our habit, maybe we believe it will make us a better person, or help us get into Heaven. But that is not really the way to approach worship. Worship is about enjoying the presence of God. It’s about giving and receiving love. That’s the purpose of worship.
Finally, Jesus is saying, “Don’t miss out on the joy of living in this moment.” Because God made you for joy.
Erwin McManus in his book Seizing Your Divine Moment writes, “What if you knew somewhere in front of you was a moment that would change your life forever, a moment rich with potential, a moment filled with endless possibilities? How would you treat that moment? How would you prepare for that moment? The only moment that you must take responsibility for right now is the one in front of you… the moment you are in right now wants to be seized…”(8)
Best-selling Christian artist David Crowder had a moment like that – an experience that changed his views on God. He was in high school, and he regularly attended church. He thought he had God all figured out. However, one particular day, he was feeling down. We wandered around his local mall and then bought a chicken sandwich and sat down to eat it. As he bit into this delicious sandwich, David suddenly realized that all good things come from God. And tears filled his eyes as he realized how grateful he was to God. This happened, not in church, not in a Sunday night youth group, but in the middle of a mall food court. He described the experience as a moment of unexpected joy. He writes, “That’s when I realized that every second is an opportunity for us to experience God. There’s not a second God is not there and available to us.”(9) All that from a chicken sandwich in the food court.
Every second is an opportunity for us to experience God. If we’re afraid of missing out on something, this is the experience we should be afraid of missing. If we’re going to spend our lives chasing something, this what we should be chasing. God is in the moment. It’s God we don’t want to miss.
So what are you doing in this very moment? Are you daydreaming about last night’s game or tomorrow’s work, or maybe what you’ll have at brunch after worship today? Or are you seizing this very moment to pray, to focus on God, to look for the Creator to speak to you and fill you with unexpected joy? You only get one go-around. Only thing matters, it is the best option, and it can’t be taken from you. Or to put it in New Testament language – there is need of only thing if you are suffering from the Fear of Missing Out . Take a seat at Jesus feet, and make sure you’re not missing out on God’s presence in your life. That’s the only thing that is needed – and it can’t be taken from you.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No, 3, p13.
2. Ibid… p14.
3. Ibid…. p14.
4. Ibid… p14.
5. Ibid… p14.
6. Ibid… p15.
7. Ibid… p15.
8. Ibid… p15-16.
9. Ibid… p16.