FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out” is a serious problem for me and a real addiction for many. Years ago our German exchange student, Olli, had a near panic attack one Friday night when he had no party or opportunity to entertain him. We thought it was kind of funny, but Olli wasn’t laughing. He was absolutely convinced that his social life was in a ditch and might never recover! Sadly, feeling overlooked or left out doesn’t end with our teenage years. A pastor friend of mine was lamenting that on the first Easter Sunday after his retirement he and his wife visited a church where no one knew them. After years of being much appreciated and needed as the preacher on stage, he and his wife suddenly felt unneeded, unnoticed and unappreciated. It was a sad and sobering experience.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest need of the poor is simply to be noticed. By that definition we all feel like we’re “poor” at times. This is why so many of us go to such great lengths to be noticed and to be relevant.

  • We obsess over the next entertainment opportunity.
  • We obsess over our appearance or popularity.
  • We obsess over our social media presence or platform.

Andy Olsen says that “‘Fear of missing out’ is at the root of our over-extended lives.” The more that I ponder my own frenetic tendencies, even in my seventh decade, my need for speed is beyond sobering! While I love to read, reflect and contemplate, I can only do that in short chunks before I reach for the technological drug that is always at my side. (Just as I wrote that I was jolted and distracted when my phone went off!) I’ve heard that it takes an average of seven minutes to go to a deep level of concentration, yet the great difficulty of giving focused attention to reading, writing or listening is that we’re interrupted every three minutes. Where is your phone right now? It really matters. A friend reported a study on the insidious distraction of cell phones. He shared how students were tested in three groups.

  • Group one was allowed to have their cell phones on their desk.
  • Group two was only allowed to have their cell phones with them but out of sight.
  • Group three was required to leave their cell phones out of the room.

Guess what? The closer the distraction of a cell phone, even if on silent, the worse the test scores! In these days of ever present social media, a phone is a symbol of a perpetual party invitation beckoning for our attention. So, a few questions to ponder:

  • Is your phone on the table when you eat with family or friends?
  • Is your phone visible to you and others when you’re in a meeting?
  • Is your phone by your bedside when you sleep, or … well, you get the point.

Come to think of it, FOMO is nothing new. In fact, in one sense it’s not even a bad thing but rather a good thing. We all ought to be interruptible when invited to embrace special moments designed by God. We all ought to fear missing out on God’s best. That usually means setting time aside without distraction to hear what the Spirit is saying. “Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.” Proverbs 1:23. “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?” Proverbs 8:1. God’s wisdom is available to us all, but we must all stop and listen. This is why Jesus commended Mary but challenged Martha in Luke 10. “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made… ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you’re worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

We all have the daily option to choose what is better. A friend of ours just said that her ninth grade son earned an A+ in procrastination! Most of us know exactly what that is. We’ve all earned the same grade time and again. We fully intend to schedule that conversation or read that book or start that project, just not right now. Then before we know it, not right now becomes not ever. By contrast, there are those people who determine to ignore the distractions and pursue the project no matter what, men like Nehemiah. If you’ll recall the biblical account, Nehemiah was seized with the need to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. So much so that he sought the permission of a pagan king to take on the effort. This passionate and purpose-filled man had many adversaries seeking to distract him. Then, at one critical moment recorded in Nehemiah 6, he said, “I am carrying on a great project and I cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 

We all live with unrelenting distractions that can combine together to keep us from pursuing God’s best. When I was convicted recently about my own pattern of procrastination, that passage from Nehemiah came to mind. The very next morning I was stabbed by the words of Tim Keller and this question: “Is there a project you have not been able to finish? Stir up your love for the people who would benefit from it, look to the ‘Finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2 KJV) and finish it.” 

What if greater love was really the key to seeing something through to completion?  At the close of a recent soul care retreat, one of the men made a stunning statement. He humbly said, “I’m repenting of squandering my leadership gift!” Now, if you knew the special challenges this father of five was facing on the home-front, you may have told him not to be so hard on himself. He lives with enormous challenges both in leading his family and his family of faith; however, he came under conviction that he had not been properly leading himself! That’s where we all need to focus first. We must admit that to some extent we are where we are because of poor choices we have made and good opportunities we have squandered. It might be as simple as passively consuming too much media instead of actively pursuing the special assignment that God has set before us. In Nehemiah’s case, he not only chose to begin a grand project, but to see it through to completion in just 52 days. That’s just slightly more than seven weeks!

What grand project might you be able to start and finish in the next seven weeks? I definitely know what mine is. Do you have one in mind? Some people squander their leadership opportunity by never getting started, others by never getting around to finishing!  As a young church planter in South Carolina I was befriended by an upper level business leader. The day I visited his large office I was shocked by both the size of his staff and the size of his office. Even more amazing to me, his large private office looked like a display in a high end furniture store. There wasn’t even one scrap of paper in sight! I laughed and said, “Don’t you ever do any work around here?” Paul smiled and then convicted me by saying, “I learned a long time ago that I can only do one thing at a time!”

Years ago, Charles Schwab, confronted a management consultant with an unusual challenge. “Show me a way to get more things done and if it works, I’ll pay anything within reason.” The consultant then handed him a piece of paper and had him write down the  things he needed to do the next day. After that he had him number them in order of priority. Then he said, “Tomorrow begin with item one and don’t move on until you’ve finished it. Then everyday do the same thing. Make a list, put things in order of priority and begin at the top. After you’ve done that for several weeks, just send me a check for whatever you think it’s worth. A few weeks later the consultant received a surprisingly large check with a note from Charles Schwab saying that this little exercise was the most profitable lesson he had ever learned in his entire business career!

You don’t have to pay anything for this counsel but what if you applied it?

  • How have you been squandering your own leadership opportunities lately?
  • What is the better thing you need to be doing now?
  • When will you determine to launch a 52 day project that might change the trajectory of your life, your family, your ministry or the lives of those you have been called to serve?

There will never be a day without distractions, nor a day without the opportunity to repeatedly begin again! A work in progress is still progress. Something is better than nothing. We can’t do it all, but we can do something by starting now!