Have you ever experienced a strong sense of anxiety because you might be missing out on a great party or similar event? Have you ever had a nagging fear that maybe your friends are doing something without you? This feeling can put you in a terrible mood, it can lead you to check your phone compulsively for messages, and many people will get on social media to see what their friends are doing to make sure they didn’t miss something incredible. This experience, this feeling, has a name. Even though I think it sounds more like a cartoon character, it is no joke. The word is FoMo (F-O-M-O) and it is an acronym for the phrase “Fear of Missing Out.” FoMo is something that most, if not all of us, have felt at some time or another. It is something that teens and young people are especially familiar with because of the ways social media pervades modern life. And while the word “FoMo” might be something relatively recent, the feeling is as old as the human race. All of us hate to miss out on something good or interesting. That’s why people rubberneck on the highway after an accident. They don’t need to see it but wouldn’t it be terrible to drive past something everyone might be talking about? That’s why people run out to scoop up great deals on things they don’t really need or can’t afford. It would be wrong to pass up such a bargain! Or, some of my friends are going to do something I don’t enjoy but I want to go anyway because I can’t stand the idea of them having fun without me. I could give more examples but you get the idea.
The reality is that people lose sleep over this stuff. FoMo keeps many people from enjoying the good things they actually have while they worry about something that may not even happen. Truthfully, most of things we fear missing out on, while they seem important at the time, really aren’t that significant.
A good question for us to think about in this brief Advent season is this: Are we as worried about missing out on spiritual opportunities as we are about social ones? Are we paying as much attention to the invitations God is sending us to spend time with him as we are to the invites and evites from our friends and family? Are we equally anxious about missing out on the incredible deal to receive forgiveness of our sins, to experience peace and joy in a personal relationship with God, as we are about something on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?
Honestly, probably not. Most of us, myself included, often have FoMo over the wrong things and as a result, we miss out on what is truly important and worthwhile. Fear of missing out on trivial things leads us to become neurotic and needy. It makes us paranoid and suspicious and makes it hard to enjoy the blessings we have.
By comparison, when we have a holy fear of missing out on the good things God wants to give us, we become more grateful and in tune with the gifts we have received. When we are on the lookout for God and his blessings in our daily lives, amazing things happen. We can find goodness in situations where others only see hardship. We begin to see a silver lining in places of defeat, disappointment, or hurt. There is nothing negative that can’t be turned around or redeemed or blessed by God.
Fear of missing out on the right things is the beginning of holiness. It’s what propelled the saints to make the most of their gifts, their lives and do their part to make the Church and world a little bit better.
We see this principle at work in our readings this week. Baruch, who was the right-hand man of Jeremiah, is exhorting the people not to give up. Even though their entire world has been destroyed and they are in slavery. He doesn’t want them to miss out on the coming of God, who will defeat their enemies and restore them to a place of peace, joy, and blessing. John the Baptist is doing the same thing as he preaches his baptism of repentance. He quotes the prophet Isaiah as he encourages all who hear him to, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Baruch and John realize that the kingdom of God, just like life itself, can speed right past us if we are not vigilant and watchful for its presence. They don’t want us to miss it so we are told to prepare a road, a path, a highway, so the love and glory of God can travel as fast as possible into our heart, mind, and soul.
Consider the spiritual opportunities we have right now. Do we realize we have multiple options to experience God’s complete forgiveness in the sacrament of confession? Or that we can receive the Eucharist any day of the week at daily Mass here or at any one of the many parishes nearby? Each of us has the chance to show God’s love to the people around us with a kind word of praise or affirmation, a mindful act of kindness, or a thoughtful prayer for someone who is hurting. These, and many more, are the occasions we have to love, forgive, and grow for our benefit and the good of others.
Advent is an opportunity stop and think about what gives us FoMo. What are we afraid of missing out on? Even if they aren’t the correct things, there is still time in this beautiful season to make things right, to prepare the way for the Lord when he arrives anew in our hearts this Christmas. May we fear missing out on the proper things, the most important things this advent season so we can grow in holiness and receive the abundant blessings God wants to share with us.