By Nathan Peterson

The Lies FOMO Tells Us

Many millennials have grown up in a world brimming with choices. Strawberry or cookie dough Pop-Tarts? Drama Club or the soccer team? College or trade school? In all these choices, we’ve discovered that sometimes there really was a better option out there, and we missed out—cookie dough Pop-Tarts really were more sugary and flavorfully fantastic! This only reinforced in us what we now call FOMO, fear of missing out.

The thing is, FOMO isn’t something you just outgrow. It’s not just benign source material for memes either. As we get older, our choices only multiply, and so do our fears that we really could be missing out on something amazing.

Looking back on the number of moves and job changes I’ve made since college, it’s a little unsettling how much FOMO factored into those decisions. If the worship at church wasn’t quite what I was used to, or if there was something about my job I wasn’t happy with, I’d begin to wonder, Maybe I’m missing out. Maybe all the things I’m looking for—like a great church, a career that fits my gifts, and an awesome group of friends—maybe they’re all out there somewhere else, just waiting for me. Those stray thoughts slowly began to grow into part of my daily routine—driving to work, hanging out at home, etc.—till they finally convinced me that moving was my best option.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that there aren’t situations when moving to a new job or new place makes the most sense. But I’ve come to recognize the danger of letting FOMO make those choices for you.

The Never-Ending Cycle

Like an ad guaranteeing that new clothes, cars, or houses will instantaneously make us happier, my FOMO promises that a simple change of circumstances is all it will take to fix my problems. It conditions me into approaching moves like a passive consumer, with the unspoken, almost subconscious expectation that changing my zip code or job would change my life. Friends would pop out of nowhere. Work would be fulfilling and rewarding. I’d have a “light bulb” moment where I’d know that I was home. And I wouldn’t have to do a thing to make all that happen. Just show up, unpack my stuff, and wait for my perfect life to fall into place. 

But when I actually think through these assumptions, instead of blindly believing them, I see how flawed they are. My strongest friendships didn’t instantly happen. They grew through intentionality, effort. I didn’t miraculously discover my calling as a writer. It took years of actually writing before I sensed God calling me in this direction.

Believing FOMO’s lies has only left me disappointed, looking for another quick fix, another move to help relieve those thoughts of missing out. It’s a never-ending cycle that leaves me restless and wondering what to try and where to go next. 

Contentment—What We’re Really Missing

In Psalm 16:5–6, David writes, “LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” There’s no “I’d be happier if I had a better job, if I found the right church, if I moved down the street or across the world.” God is the root and foundation for David’s satisfaction. Because of this, he discovers joy right where he is.

That flies in the face of my FOMO something fierce. 

So do God’s commands to the Jews after they were carried off to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. . . . Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:5, 7). These people likely had a strong case of FOMO and a lot more legitimate reasons for it than many of us do. They were forced into a new, foreign place far from home. What weren’t they missing out on? But God doesn’t command them to sneak away to find a better place to live and work. No, he commands contentment—for his people to settle down, take root, and engage with the community they’re living in. No FOMO here.

Right now, I’m in the middle of another job search and potential move. And FOMO is right there in my mind with all kinds of greener-grass-on-the-other-side promises. But Scripture makes it clear that satisfaction and joy aren’t found only in the new and exciting. These things can be found right where we are.

Are there places in your life where you feel like you’re giving in to FOMO? Do you catch yourself wondering if you’re missing out? Take a moment to ask yourself why. What are you really looking for? Is this something that only God-given satisfaction can fulfill?

I’ve found that one huge step in helping overcome FOMO is just recognizing it. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, take those thoughts captive. They aren’t true, they’re not from God, and they don’t belong. In the space FOMO occupied in our minds, pour in Scripture. For me, Psalm 16 continues to display a powerful, all-encompassing vision of godly satisfaction that I often return to.

Undoubtedly, there are times when the Lord leads us to new places and opportunities. But there are also moments where he calls us to stay and seek his goodness, peace, and satisfaction right where we are. Surely, we have a delightful inheritance! 

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Nathan Peterson works as the Urbana 18 writer at InterVarsity’s National Service Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Comments

So spot on! I too struggle with FOMO and I appreciate your approach to beating it back with Scripture.

Thank you,Nathan! You are wise beyond your years. Too many of us are to soon old and too late smart. Putting our trust in Yeshua alleviates that greatest FOMO when our transition finally comes. We'll have found our rest in Him. Rom.8:18

At 52, others see me as too busy for the kingdom to be of any kingdom good. I have often been encouraged by those to narrow my focus. I can easily be accused of FOMO. Really though I am hyperactive, always have been. When I got saved in 1990 in my early 20's the Holy Spirit was speaking to me of what I could be as he led the way. I have already lived 3 life times of ministry adventures. Working for Dept. of Corrections was one, getting saved and exercising my gifts as I grew and served in others ministries and my own, planting a street corner church 12.5 years ago, running for Oregon legislature 4 times, planting Salem ministries while enjoying pruning fruit trees on the side as my regular job is working for a Plant Health Care spray company, all the while leading a family.

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