When You Have FOMO, Even Though You Were There

 

FOMO

A few years ago, I was introduced to a little four-letter acronym that put a name to a feeling I was all too familiar with: FOMO. The Fear Of Missing Out.

Turned out, it wasn’t just me who felt a stab of sadness when there was a dinner I wasn’t invited to… even if it was a dinner I didn’t particularly want to attend, I still felt sad to not be invited. FOMO hits when friends I like hang out with each other without me. FOMO strikes when I see pictures on instagram of happy groups at the theater, at the park, on vacation. Finding out that FOMO had a name—that it was a thing‑made me take a harder look at this phenomenon, and why it is that I compare my messiest self with others’ glossiest online presence. The twin beasts of comparison and envy lurk close by, and as one friend recently said: Social Media is like Miracle-Gro for envy.

I recently got to attend a writers’ conference: a FEAST of a festival, with speakers and professionals and an abundance of online friends there in person. More than a few of my writer friends expressed their great sadness that they couldn’t go: “I’m going to have to stay off the internet for a week to keep the FOMO at bay,” wrote one. Wanting to be sensitive to those same feelings of loss that I experienced, I kept fairly quiet about the fact that I’d be attending. I didn’t live tweet each session. I didn’t post pictures of all the wonderful people I saw. FOMO is a thing, and I didn’t want to kindle it.

I got to go. I didn’t miss out. But here’s the thing: at the end of the first day I had a creeping sense of loss and sadness, and it took me a couple of hours to figure out what it was: my old nemesis FOMO, right there with me. After fifteen hours of constant interaction and input on that first day, I found myself strangely sad about all the conversations I hadn’t been able to finish, the people I hadn’t manage to connect with, the sessions I couldn’t attend because I was in a brilliant parallel session.

“How ungrateful you are”, I chided myself. “How ridiculous to have your whole day tainted by what you didn’t experience, rather than be amazed at what you did?” I spent some time before the second day began mentally preparing for the day ahead and taking my FOMO—now that I’d identified it—by the horns. I would aim to be present with the person right in front of me in conversation, to keep my eyes from flitting to the stream of people walking past behind them. I would take good notes in each session, and keep a record of the gems in front of me. I would keep my hands open, ready to receive every good gift that came my way, and ready to give generously if I had opportunity.

The second day was so much better, and the third better yet. The practice of being present and attentive to the graces before me is something my FOMO-bent heart needs all the time, for I am strangely capable of missing out on the good thing right in front of me just because I’m scared of missing out somewhere else.

I come home from the conference a little wiser about myself. I’m learning that the cure to FOMO is not to be found in being invited to all the things and attending all the events. It’s making sure I attend—with present, mindful, attention—to the place I am at. It’s not cured by physically showing up; for me it’s about emotionally and spiritually showing up in the conversation I’m having and the situation I’m in right now, without letting my heart and attention flit elsewhere.

Our Fear of Missing Out will not be cured by receiving more invitations. Rather, God is inviting me—and you—to attend to the good gifts right in front of us, for He Fears we’ll be Missing Out if we don’t.

 

Photo credit: Lilong Dolrani/ Lonely (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea using Canva.

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Want My Kids To Be Fearless

Fearless kids

There are many things I want for my children: Kindness. Gentleness. Courage. Love. But one thing I don’t want for my kids is for them to be fearless.

I’ve been listening to a bunch of platitudes that we Older People offer scared kids: “there’s nothing to be afraid of”, “this won’t hurt”, “it’ll be okay”… and you know what? Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes there is something to be afraid of. Sometimes it will hurt. And sometimes, it won’t be okay.

Not that I want our kids to be quivering bundles of anxiety, afraid to stick out their neck and look at the world – but I want my kids to be appropriately fearful: fearful of things that are, in fact, dangerous. I want them to be afraid of fast cars, drunk friends, and the things you could find on the internet. I want them to be afraid of playing with the supernatural. I want them to keep their distance from the ledge, from drugs, from cavalier attitudes to sex and death.

There’s another word that comes to mind when I think about some of the “fearless” people I’ve met: foolish. People who live as if leap without looking, believing that “it couldn’t happen to them”. They believe they are invincible. Bulletproof. They think there is little, if any, correlation between their choices and consequent events. That they’ll “be just fine”, because after all, haven’t they been hearing that “there was nothing to be afraid of” since they were itty-bitty little ones?

This thought came to me as I was talking with a friend about why I’m uncomfortable with some of the TV shows my kids want to watch. One in particular has increasingly included themes with ghosts and the forces of evil, and it shows in my boys’ play. That particular show is no longer allowed. I hadn’t quite nailed down why until I found myself blurting it to a friend: “It would be one thing if I could just pooh-pooh the show and say ‘oh, that’s not real’, but the danger for me here is that this show flirts with things that are really real and from which I want my kids to keep a healthy distance. It blurs the lines, and I feel like they’re becoming flippant about the existence of evil, as if you can flirt with really dark things and simply dispel them with a quick change into a brightly colored lycra suit and a ninja-move.”

In short, I want my kids to be a little afraid of evil, and many “hero shows” don’t respect that. For all the debacle about Harry Potter, I at least feel that it teaches a healthy respect for the dark side, whatever that may look like.

So yes, I want my kids to be a little fearful. Appropriately fearful. I want them to fear the spirit world enough to not mess around with Ouija boards when they are teens. I want them to fear my wrath enough not to play in the street… at least until they’re old enough to develop a fear of the injuries that car accidents can cause. I want them to fear death enough to not text while they drive. I want them to fear the sea enough to not try and swim against a rip tide.

A failure to fear things that really can hurt us is actually foolishness. And fearing—in the sense of a healthy-respect-for-our-vulnerability-to-powers-beyond-our-control —is the path to wisdom. I think that’s what the Bible means by the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom: not that we quake and cower before a mean and capricious God (for he is not like that), but we take it seriously that he is not to be trifled with. God–like fire, and the ocean—can be engaged with, and a source of joy and delight, but only if there’s a healthy respect… or fear… of how very vulnerable we are.

I’m not saying I want to raise fearful kids, where fear of loss or rejection or whatever becomes their anthem. Remember our friend Disgust from Inside Out? Disgust does important work in protecting us from poisonous snacks or scenarios (“eeeew. Eat THAT? No thank you.”) And Sadness? She is vital to our learning empathy and connection with people. As uncomfortable as anger, disgust, sadness, and fear may be – they serve an important purpose in teaching us to relate wisely to the world inside and the world out there.

So no, I don’t want fearless kids. I want kids just a little afraid of the really scary things out there, with the courage and wisdom to make better choices in the face of fear.

 

Image Credit: Fear/Juan Julbe (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea

A Brave Pen-light in a Dark World

This is one of the few (ever) guest posts that left me in broken, hopeful tears. After reading it I emailed Aleah and said, “dang it girl. dang.”  Aleah Marsden is my writing BFF, but even if I didn’t have the extraordinary privilege of being able to say those things I would still say this: she is an incredible writer. This piece is about how scary it is to write, or to do anything, for that matter, when our contribution is so small and scared, while the world out there is so big and scary. 

God uses our stones, you know. And our

My seven year old son sits before the homework page: knees up, heels resting on the seat of the chair, arms wrapped around his legs, and dark brown, nearly black, eyes staring over his folded arms. Brooding. On the verge of tears. One hundred math facts: ten rows of ten facts, daunting. Overwhelmed and paralyzed, he fights the battle raging in his mind for a place to start. For a foothold. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, looking pathetic enough, I will have pity and excuse him from the work. Or do it for him.

My empathy is touched, but not pushed to interference. This scene plays out at least once a week, whenever the dreaded hundred-fact sheet is pulled out of his folder. He is excellent at math. Rarely do I need to correct his answers, though his spelling is another story. I know he can do this and do it well. I have witnessed him do it before.

However, I know how it feels to be overwhelmed and so stuck up-in-your-head that you can’t take the next step—even and especially the first faltering step.

I look adoringly from my book proposal, that sweet bundle of hope and pixels, to my phone: a picture of 21 brothers on a beach who I will see in martyr’s robes on the last day. I look into the eyes I can see because I want to be sure I recognize them. Oh, God, for the women and children left behind!

I excitedly check Twitter to see if today will be the day I break the magical 1,000 followers mark. I’m far from the majestic blue-check stamp of approval, but still eagerly anticipating this next milestone. Then I click a link and read about human trafficking in such beyond-the-numbers human terms that I’m sick to my stomach. Oh, baby girl. No, Lord, no!

I pray over my possibilities and share my life-giving stories of IF:Gathering last weekend. Of the power of women (and a few brave men) contained around tables in the theater and at restaurants all over downtown Austin. I am challenged to stop insulating myself from the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. To stop counting the cost, as I consider the cost of a little more than a dollar a day to Feed the Children. And I can’t. Because right now that dollar a day feeds my people and it tears me apart with longing for more. I vow to be generous with what I have and not what I haven’t.

I stand in the field, tall grass tickling my exposed calves, with my stone in my sling facing the Giant.

I walk my sixth lap around a fortress fortified up to Heaven and wonder if the marching is making any difference at all.

I look into the face of the Man calling me to drop everything and follow Him, heart beating in my throat.

In reality, I smoosh the words around the screen with the skill of a finger-painting preschooler and a fraction of the confidence. I point my laptop in the direction of the void of cybernetic space and fire off another bundle of words into the darkness.

There is so much more I want to do. If only I had heavier artillery to bring to this battle. I see my brother-martyrs, my sister-victims, our hungry kids and I point a blue ballpoint in my trembling right hand. I thrust it out before my chest against the swords and darkness; impotent iPhone in my back pocket.

My hope looks insignificant, selfish, against this wave. I am swept up in the rush of urgency down the social media rapids, overwhelmed and pulled under the whirlpool of information until I’m washed out on the shore panting, crying, praying. It’s too much. It’s too big.

How simple, how stupid, how selfish, how small this art feels against the looming dark.

I trudge out back to water the damn platform again, wondering as I do if it will ever be tall enough for anyone to find relief under its branches. If it even matters, or if it will just a die a slow death like every other green thing ever entrusted to my care. Truth is, though I sometimes fantasize about uprooting the thing and feeding it to the wood chipper, I believe it contains potential to grow into something beautiful, flourishing, and a tree of blessing for others.

Even though my words possess some intrinsic value scribbled in the margins of my personal space: they have no impact unless I have the courage to fling them. Maybe it’s more selfish to hoard them. I put my whole self of force behind them, trusting the I AM within to provide spark and trajectory for my small stones. God uses our stones, you know. And our steps, our pieces, our art to sum greater than their parts. Every time. He is our only hope against the too much, too big dark because He is the greatest much, the greatest big light. Against Him no darkness can stand.

My sweet boy sits staring. Even this small battle of overcoming addition holds incredible kingdom implications. You can do this. You are enough. You have what it takes. I breathe into the top of his soft dark hair. Start. Just pick one and do it. Then do another. And another. And one more little piece until it somehow in the mystery and solidness of mathematics makes a hundred.

I’ll keep flinging my words. Keep watering and pruning the brambly platform out back. Keep forcing myself to find human faces in the information overload out there. One more post, one more stone, one more submission, one more lap.

One more step forward pointing my pen-light into the darkness.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

Photo credit: Einherjan2k8 – Overgrown Path in the early evening sun (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by Bronwyn Lea

Fear Not!

I am thrilled to introduce my friend and fellow Redbud writer Dorothy Greco to you. I love Dorothy’s thoughtful and thought-provoking writing, and her photos are just… well…. breath-taking. She is a regular contributor at Gifted for Leadership, and her work has appeared at RELEVANT, Christianity Today, Abingdon Women and more . You can visit her online at dorothygreco.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

angel fear not

Americans generally don’t associate fear with Christmas. We tend to sanitize and commercialize the holiday, throwing in omniscient Santas and schmaltzy music for good measure. Even when we dramatize the Nativity, it’s safe and tidy with the generous magi showing up like long forgotten uncles. But there’s more to this narrative–and that more is far from safe.

The back story could easily earn an R rating and instill fear in the most courageous of souls: angelic visitations, high risk pregnancies, a last minute escape, a jealous king, and the infanticide of baby boys. Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah were not the only ones who needed to hear, Gabriel’s word, “Do not be afraid!”

Two things strike me about the angel’s exhortation. First, God understands humanity’s innate tendency to gravitate toward fear. And second, there’s an unspoken implication that choosing not to fear is an actual option.

I haven’t always felt like I’ve had a choice in this matter. Raised in a home with an alcoholic parent, there was a notable lack of predictability which left me grasping for control. As a coping mechanism, I developed the sensitivity of a deer grazing in broad daylight–ever poised to retreat at the slightest indication of a coming storm. Eventually, that hyper-vigilance became as much a part of me as my dimples and brown hair.

Regardless of our upbringing, few of us have entered adulthood without witnessing or experiencing at least a few frightening events. Accidents, health crises, and large scale tragedies (such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing), all leave fault lines. For some of us, fear gets normalized due to years spent living in crime-ridden neighborhoods or being in abusive relationships.

Though each of us has unique histories with fear, our bodies respond in a similar fashion. Adrenaline surges, the heart goes into overdrive, muscles contract, body temperature drops, and organs deemed unnecessary for fight or flight (like the stomach) essentially shut down. And if fear persists, it impacts far more than our adrenal systems; it seeps into our souls and conditions our expectations. For some veterans, the simple sound of a car’s backfire can send them into a reflexive drop and roll.

So, was Gabriel onto something? Do we have a choice or is fear simply a chemical chain reaction–a byproduct of evolution–and therefore beyond our control? Based on my own life experiences and my understanding of Scripture, I think we can actually take back some of the territory lost to fear.

We first have to learn to recognize what fear looks like in our lives. For most of us, fear is connected to everyday worries. In contrast, many of the 40 million American adults who suffer from diagnosed anxiety disorders can recognize fear with their eyes closed because the anxiety they experience is far more acute. Understandably, some of these individuals organize their days to keep a safe distance from their personal cliffs.

But fear has many manifestations, some of which are difficult to identify. Sometimes it’s connected to a specific place (the dentist’s office) or activity (flying), but not always. In our current culture, most of us unreflectively say we’re “stressed” without piecing together that stress is little more than a euphemism for fear. In my own life, I’ve done some risky things (like sleeping under a highway overpass with runaway teens) and regularly enjoy the #1 fear on most people’s lists: public speaking. However, I continue to do hand to hand combat with fear on a routine basis.

Take last summer’s vacation. While in Zion National Park, our sons wanted to do the Angel’s Landing hike which has multiple dire warnings; “Not recommended for anyone fearful of heights. This hike has sheer drop offs.” My fear based imagination envisioned a sudden gust of wind pushing them over the edge. I tried to dissuade them but when that failed, I prayed non-stop until they re-appeared over the ridge.

This tendency to catastrophize, to expect the worst case scenario, has been with me as long as I can remember. While it’s impossible to discern exactly where it came from, I am convinced it has spiritual dimensions. It’s as if the enemy notices my moments of vulnerability, sidles up to me, and tries to convince me that my Father is not who He claims to be and is therefore, not to be trusted. Isn’t this the same tactic Satan took with Adam and Eve?

Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” For us to walk in that power, love, and self-discipline, we need to ruthlessly part company with fear. In my own life, this has meant confessing any and all faulty theology. If I begin to doubt God’s advocacy or love for me, I recall Jesus’s willingness to come to earth and die on my behalf. If the fear persists, I’ll address it directly; “In Jesus name, I rebuke you spirit of fear. Go to the cross.”(It’s counter cultural and won’t necessarily endear you to the random person standing next to you in the elevator, but trust me, it’s effective.)

While we all need some measure of healthy fear to keep us from stepping in front of a moving train, I believe that God wants us to appropriate Christ’s resurrection power whenever we feel limited or constrained by fear. If that’s the case, Gabriel’s exhortation to “Fear not!” is just as relevant–and comforting–for us today as it was for Joseph, Mary, and Zechariah two thousand years ago.

Please Note: For those of you who have diagnosed anxiety disorders, this does not mean that battling in the spiritual realm will erase the valid benefits you receive from your therapeutic work and/or prescribed medications.