Every Thought Captive

FOMO: The Teenage Acronym, Our Hearts, and The Gospel

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:31-32

I would like to think that years of youth ministry have made me pretty savvy with teenage girls and the lingo that is uniquely theirs. However, last fall as I sat amongst a group of chatty 16-year-olds, I was exposed for the out-of-touch, 31-year-old that I am. My exposure went something like this:

One girl was describing, with great enthusiasm, her upcoming weekend plans. And as she did so, an obviously disheartened girl next to me responded with a phrase I had literally never heard before, “Wow, major FOMO!”

“FOMO?!?” I responded, obviously in the dark.

“Um, yeah,” the girls replied, almost in unison. “Fear of missing out!”

Well, I guess I was the one who had been missing out… But not anymore. The acronym, the phrase it signifies, and my conversation with those girls last fall has weighed heavily upon me. Not because it exposed me as an ancient relic. And not because it exposed all the acronyms I was familiar with to be “so 1997.” It has weighed upon me because it exposed my experience. It has weighed upon me because it exposed my heart.

This fear of missing out has been true of me for as long as I can remember. As a child it manifested itself in harmless and innocent ways—like falling asleep on the floor by my bedroom door anytime my parents had friends over because I did not want to miss a second of the action. As I got older, the manifestations looked like three-way calling, never missing a slumber party, and not studying abroad in college for fear I would miss out on memories made at football games, sorority crush parties, and many late night runs to Taco Cabana back in College Station, Texas. As I am faced with the manifestations in my grown-up heart, they are not so harmless and not so naive. 

In my grown-up heart, this fear of missing out manifests itself by constantly saying “yes” even at the expense of my family. It manifests itself in preoccupation with and jealousy over other people’s lives—envious of their jobs, vacations, social lives, marriages, and kids. It manifests itself in hard-heartedness toward people whose lives I often see only at a distance because they have something I so desperately think I want. It manifests itself in discontentment in life as I experience it right now. It manifests itself in an insatiable longing for “the next thing”—the next job, the next move, the next paycheck, and the next stage in my child’s life.  And it manifests itself in anger. I want to say at my circumstances, but truthfully it is anger at the Lord. And that is when I see my fear of missing out is more deeply rooted and much messier than I originally thought.  Only on the surface is it about how I see and think about my experiences. Underneath, it is about how I see and think about God Himself. It is not so much a fear of missing out, but a fear and a belief that God is holding out. He is withholding from me something or many things that I think are good for me, that I need, that I am entitled to, or that I deserve.

If you are anything like me, we find that when we look in the Scriptures that we are not alone in this story, this struggle, this mess. Was this not Adam and Eve’s story, too? God had given them everything He had made and said that it was good. And yet, they set their eyes on the one tree not given to them for food, listened to the voice of the serpent, and believed the lie, “God is holding out on you.” And so they ate.

Was this not the Israelites story in the desert? God had heard their cries in Egypt. He delivered them from Pharaoh. He had led them out of slavery. He Himself was dwelling in their midst. And yet in all this, they believed God was still holding out on them. They wearied of His provision in the desert and yearned for all they had had in Egypt.

Was this not their story in Canaan? God had fulfilled all His promises. He had brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey. He had given them victory over their enemies. He ruled over them and among them as a shepherd and a king. And yet they believed He was holding out on them. They looked with envy at the other nations and demanded a king.

Was this not David’s story? He was the king. He was a man after God’s own heart. There was nothing that was not his—except the beautiful Bathsheba. She was another man’s wife. He believed God has holding out on him. He brought her to himself, killed her husband, and made her his own.

The stories could go on and on. It is the story of God’s people. It is the story of the human heart. And yet it is a story God speaks into, that God steps into in the person of Jesus Christ.

In Romans 8, Paul depicts how God enters into this story as an argument from greater to lesser: God has met our very deepest need at the most personal and most costly expense—His very own Son in our place on the cross. Why would He then withhold from us anything else that was good for us, anything else that we needed far less, and anything else that would be much easier and far less costly for Him to give? Puritan John Flavel describes it this way: 

Surely if He would not spare His own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever He should, after this, deny or withhold from His people, for whose sake all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal which is good for them.

These truths call us in the midst of present circumstances to remember Jesus and to set our gaze upon Him. In Jesus, God speaks mightily to our hearts, though often discouraged, discontent, and doubting they may be. In Jesus, God shows us that though there are things He may withhold, He is never holding out. In Jesus, we are reminded that He is good, always good, supremely good. And in Jesus, the way has been opened to come to the Father, the One who is all we need, in whose presence is “fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

About the Author

Photograph of Caroline Scruggs

Caroline Scruggs

Caroline was born and raised in Dallas and attended Texas A&M University. After college, she worked on staff with the PCPC Youth Ministriy for six years. She graduated from Covenant Seminary with an M.Div in May 2013. She and her husband, John Mark, currently live in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they work with college students through Reformed University Fellowship at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Caroline and John Mark have a daughter, Mary Margaret, and a son, Jack.