FOMO and the unspeakable sweetness of love

Adam and Eve experiencing FOMO...

Adam and Eve experiencing FOMO...

The Psalms are odd songs. They have been sung and prayed by Christians and Jews alike for thousands of years.  They do not rhyme and don't have much meter, but they have a poetic device of repetition that can wonderfully survive translation.  I recently came across this couplet in prayer:

May God bless the work of our hands
Yes, may the work of our hands be blest.

This is an odd, earthly blessing.  But perhaps a blessing we sorely need.  So let me offer it to you as a blessing in middle of your hectic race to get everything done: May the work of your hands be blessed. 

But what is the work that we do?  Is it the paper you have to write?  Or the performance you have this week? Or the reading?  Or the committee report? Or shopping? Or the  praying?  Or the children? Or that letter to your mother that has been on your mind for weeks?  Or the pre-gardening?  Or the house cleaning? Or getting the car fixed? Or getting the cat fixed?  Or the reading group? Or Spring cleaning? Or the soccer game? Oh, have you called your mother? 

We are indeed busy with all the "work of our hands” that feels thrust upon us. But why is it someone else's fault?  How did we become so busy?  How did we get to this place where the work of our hands rules us? I recently learned of new anxiety that may be a cause, or a symptom, of our busyness:  FOMO.   This acronym stands for the Fear of Missing Out. Students are said to be frantically checking their facebook pages to keep track of all the interesting and important things that others are doing, to make sure that they don't miss out on the fun, or get left out of the action.  So the constant checking of the cell phone is not out of interest, but out of fear.

For instance, right now, as you are reading this blog post, other interesting, important things are going on – without you.  Yes, you are most assuredly, missing out, even now when you are doing twice as many things as you used to do.  If you shut your browser right now, you might have a chance to get involved, to get that email off, or make that meeting before it is over.  Or you could keep reading in the hope that I will finally say something interesting.  Either do it, or do not.  You will regret them both.  You are sure to miss out on something.

Here is a story about missing out:

“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked the Holy One.
“Here.” The Holy One said.
 “Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look” said the Holy One.
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing,” the Holy One said,  “just look.”
 “Must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No,” the Holy One said, “the ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?”
“No, you don’t,” said the Holy One.
“Why ever not?” the disciple demanded.
“Because to look, you must be here,” the Holy One said. “You are mostly somewhere else.” [1]

FOMO.  You a truly missing out on being here; you are mostly somewhere else.

If anyone might be thought to missing out, it would be St Thérèse of Lisieux.  Thérèse became a Carmelite nun at the age of 15 and died at 24, in that whole time never leaving the monastery. Thérèse struggled with the limitations of her ability and the restrictions of the monastery that kept her from doing great things.  She longed to be a missionary, a prophet, a doctor of the church[2], or a martyr.  But she was hemmed in by ability and circumstances and she began to despair.  After long struggle, and while reading the apostle Paul’s writing about “the most excellent way” she wrote in all caps in her notes: “I have found it! My Vocation is love.”  I will “do small things with great love.”  Her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, contains her "little way" of love and is now the center of a large following of people who seek this calling to do every thing, no matter how small, with great love.  

To do small things, to do each thing, whether great or small, with great love; This is the way, as the Holy One said in our story, to be here, and not somewhere else.  To live not in fear of missing out, but to run the spiritual path "with unspeakable sweetness of love.” [3]

So, the work of our hands, our vocation, our calling, is to practice doing each thing with great love.  It will cast out fear. Fear will flee before it.


This is a shortened version of a talk I gave in chapel at St. Olaf College December 3, 2014.  You can find the whole talk here.   It begins at 6:36 into the archived video.

[1] I cannot find the source for this story.  Google tells me it is from Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled from the Daily. but I cannot find it online, and I have lost my copy. [if you know where it is let me know...]

[2] She is, indeed, now a Doctor of the Church, someone officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and acclaimed for having depth of understanding.

[3] From the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict.


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