Fear of Missing Out
Thinking about the God-Shaped Hole
Reverend Teri Daily
A few months ago Oxford Dictionaries Online added the acronym FOMO to its catalog of words. FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”--it’s the anxiety that rises up in us when we think that we may be missing out on a party or an event or really any kind of social interaction. It’s that nagging feeling that has us squeezing two parties into the same night instead of just relaxing and being fully present at one, or checking email when we’re in the middle of a dinner out with friends, or interrupting a phone call to answer a call on the other line. The irony is that we are willing to disconnect from the people we’re with so as not to let a potentially more satisfying interaction pass us by.
Of course, it’s not just social connections that we fear missing out on. There’s the possibility that another job will be more satisfying, that more money will buy us more happiness, that the next self-improvement book we read will give us the psychological maturity we’ve been longing for, or that just one more piece of knowledge will somehow make sense of the whole. These possibilities can be like a perfect shiny red apple that hangs high enough on the tree that it always just barely eludes our grasp. These possibilities drive us to reach farther and to do more. But we can become fixated on them. And then it’s like when we become obsessed with reaching that one perfect apple. We end up missing all the ripe, succulent fruit that lies all around us on the ground--ours for the taking, right where we are.
FOMO may have just made its way into the dictionary, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon. It’s as old as creation; in fact, we see it in today’s reading from Genesis. The serpent comes to Eve (and Adam who was right there with her) and asks if God has forbidden the two of them from eating the fruit of any tree in the garden. Eve relays God’s instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, embellishing it somewhat by adding that not only were they not to eat the fruit, but they were also not even to touch the tree, or else they would die. The serpent replies: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.” And there it is. The serpent plants the first seeds of mistrust, the first suspicion that God might jealously withhold good things, the first fear of missing out.
Part of the tragedy of the story is that Adam and Eve fail to see that the image of God is already within them. All they want from the fruit of that tree—to see things from God’s perspective, to know good and evil, to be like God—all those things are already destined to be theirs. Adam and Eve just go about trying to get them in the wrong way.
See, God made humankind to be in relationship with God--to walk together with God in the garden at dusk, to grow in both their knowledge of the world and their likeness to God as they grow in relationship with the one who created them. But Eve and Adam become impatient and distrustful, and they give in to the temptation to try to get exactly what they were created for but in another way.
That’s what most sin is at its core—wanting something good in the wrong way. We all want knowledge, to be loved, to live forever, to be secure, to embody goodness, and to be empowered. And God wants all these things for us. The problem comes when we forget our dependence on the one who created us; the problem comes when, in our search for these things, we disregard the others with whom we share this earth; the problem comes when we fail to trust God to be the fulfillment of our deepest desires.
I don’t blame Adam and Eve, really. I know what it’s like to have a hole in your heart--we all do. That hole is the very root of our fear of missing out, and it is part of the human condition. David Lose puts it this way:
Might it be that a part of being human is being aware that we are insufficient, that we are not complete in and of ourselves, that lack is a permanent part of our condition? To be human, in other words, is to be aware that we carry inside ourselves a hole, an emptiness that we will always be restless to fill. Adam and Eve behold the fruit and conclude in a heartbeat that their hole is shaped just like that fruit. Yet after they eat, the emptiness remains. Today we might imagine that hole to be shaped just like a new car, or computer, or better house, or the perfect spouse.
But after laboring and sacrificing and obtaining these things, the emptiness remains. Blaise Pascal once described this essential condition of humanity as having a "God-shaped hole"…. There is no filling of that gap, no permanent erasing that hole, except in and through our relationship with God. Or, as Augustine said, we humans are always restless until we rest in God.
It’s no coincidence that this reading from Genesis is paired with the account of Satan tempting Jesus. After Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, and he is weak and starving, Satan holds out fruit in the form of bread, security, majesty, and, most of all, power. And yet Jesus refuses to fill the hole within him through any means of his own, and with any substitute for God.
Of course, Jesus was also more human than we sometimes admit. He, too, knew the pain of restlessness. He, too, knew what it was like to feel distant from God. Especially as he hung on the cross, crying out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” If Jesus could feel that way, then I suspect this side of eternity we will always feel somewhat incomplete. We will always know restlessness. And we will at times forget or lose trust, and try to fill the hole in our heart with things of our own making.
But here’s the rest of the story from the third chapter of Genesis, the part that isn’t in today’s reading. When Adam and Eve hear God walking through the garden in the cool of the day, they hide. But God looks for them, and calls out, “Where are you?” “Where are you?” These three words form the rest of the story; they are the gospel. See, all of scripture is a continuation of that scene in the garden, and of God’s call to Adam and Eve: “Where are you?” It’s the story of God never ceasing to look for us, never ceasing to come to us.
So, looking at today’s readings, maybe Lent is partially about learning that “we are incomplete in and of ourselves,” that the hole we feel in our heart is just part of our own limitation as finite creatures. And Lent is a time of drawing close to God, trusting that the hole in our heart is indeed God-shaped and not shaped like so many other things in our world. And, maybe most of all, Lent is about standing still and out in the open, waiting to be found by the God who never ceases to look for us.
 David Lose in his online commentary for Lent 1, Year A, from 2011, accessed online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=902.