Ten minutes into our requested breakfast meeting, I regretted having said yes. The young man who had asked for the get-together—he needed some pastoral coaching, evidently—was sitting across from me at the diner, and now, there at the restaurant, with my full attention pointed his way, he had the gall to check his smart phone what seemed like every sixteen seconds. He checked it while I was ordering my meal, he checked it just after he ordered his meal, he checked it while I answered his questions, and he even checked it while he asked them. Unless the guy was waiting on word of an organ transplant—which I quickly learned he wasn’t—his lack of focus was totally unacceptable.
The world of psychology has a term for this annoying phenomenon of neglecting to pay attention to the person or situation immediately in front of you, choosing instead to see who else is doing something interesting or what else is going on. “FOMO,” it is called, otherwise known as the fear of missing out. FOMO is what causes us to “text while driving … interrupt one call to take another … and check [our] Twitter stream while on a date [or at a breakfast meeting with our pastor].” In short, we do these infuriating things because “something more entertaining just might be happening.”
I’m convinced that some of us could experience a visit from Jesus himself—live and in the flesh—and yet still we’d brazenly stick an index finger in the air and say, “Hang on, Jesus. Let me just check my Facebook wall real quick.”
There is an underlying fear motivating all this craziness; we don’t just want to be “in” on other people’s excitement, but we want them to find us exciting too. We want to be seen and heard and recognized and admired; we so desperately want someone to care. But what’s interesting is that when we shout along with hundreds of millions of others who are shouting, still we cannot be heard; our voice is simply lost in the others’ me-focused cacophony of sound.
After having considered the pace Jesus lived by, I arrive at an early conclusion: Jesus didn’t know FOMO very well. Actually, I don’t think he knew it at all. What concerned him was not being included on all the right lists, being retweeted by all the right handles, being known by all the right names. What concerned him was being hidden away in the character of his Father, and from there living life at peace.
John 15 contains a fascinating metaphor along these lines. Jesus is talking here to his disciples and explains his relationship to them in agricultural terms. “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer,” he says. “He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken” (vv. 1-3).
He then goes on to say exactly how this fruit-bearing is going to occur: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (v. 4).
So, it’s not that we are expected to live the Jesus Pace alone; he is the one who will get us there. He is the band leader in our quest for a rhythmic life.
“I am the Vine,” the passage continues, “you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples” (vv. 5-8).
As it relates to our present-day plague of FOMO, here is what I think Jesus is saying in these verses from John 15: “You’re only missing out if you’re missing out on me.”