I have solved the problem of declining worship attendance. I now know why fewer and fewer people these days are going to church on Sunday mornings.
I lay the blame squarely at the feet of a social disorder known as FOMO.
What’s FOMO?, you ask. It’s an anxiety born of social media use — Fear of Missing Out.
This explains why so many of us are always checking our phones, inboxes, Instagrams, Snapchats, and Twitter feeds. Deep down inside, we are scared to death that something else is happening in the world that is more exciting, more interesting, and more important than what we happen to be doing at that same instant.
And I can positively guarantee you that, between the hours of 11 am and noon on Sunday, you are missing something if you happen to be in church. You can be sure that a friend somewhere else is having a wonderful brunch, or that a family member is enjoying your niece’s first steps, or Trump is tweeting something else ridiculous.
The key is learning to put FOMO aside during that hour, and embracing instead the idea that you are indeed missing out, and that you are very happy to be missing out, because you are instead choosing to focus on what is happening right now. In fact, this must be a daily practice for each of us if we want to keep our senses going into 2017.
I would like to suggest that the entire Christmas story is one big exercise in embracing FOMO. Let’s begin with the location. There are hundreds of more interesting and exciting locations for the birth of the Savior than the tiny village of Bethlehem, an insignificant spot in an even more insignificant piece of geopolitical real estate. Rome would have been a more important place for a divine birth; Athens would have also been a notable city. Or perhaps the Savior should have been born a member of the Han Dynasty in China.
But Bethlehem? That wasn’t the happenin' place.
And what about that birth? It took place in a stable, a mundane, uninteresting place. It might actually have been a little embarrassing for Mary to lay her newborn baby in a manger; it must have felt a little like putting her baby in a dog bowl. Would she have Instagram-ed that? I doubt it.
It wasn’t Mary’s idea to have the baby arrive in the midst of their trip to Bethlehem. I’m sure she would much rather have stayed home in the presence of family and friends for the happy occasion. What was she missing by being in the stable?
More than once, I bet Joseph entertained his own FOMO. What was happening back home? Was he missing any work orders? What if someone stole his tools while he was gone?
Of course, we know that this birth is the MOST important thing that has ever happened. Joseph and Mary had front-row seats to a world-altering event. They didn’t miss anything at all; instead, they got to witness it all.
That’s how God usually operates. In the routine and ordinary flow of life, grace is quietly working. In the change of seasons and rhythms of landscapes, the most incredible signs of hope appear.
If you have FOMO, however, you might just miss it.
When we are able to set aside the anxiety that something else interesting is going on somewhere else, then we might be able to discern the way that God is working in the here and now.
The truth is, if you suffer from FOMO, then you really are missing out. Because God is at work. Right in front of your very eyes.
What better time than Advent to start paying attention?