It’s time for me to tell you exactly what happened over the summer. It’s important that you understand exactly what happened, because it was the catalyst to the biggest change I have ever made in my life or maybe it was the biggest change God has ever made in me. My pride wants to say it was me, but I know it wasn’t me alone. Perhaps it was a team effort. But that’s not important right now, the important part is that the change occurred.
If you didn’t witness it you may have never known, but I had a complete emotional and mental breakdown over the summer. I say complete, because there were times all I could do was cry and stare into space. Everything gave me anxiety, and when I say everything, I mean everything. I didn’t eat because deciding what to eat pushed me toward an anxiety attack. I couldn’t decide when I should shower, so I just didn’t. The simple act of getting out of bed brought me to tears almost every morning. Even reading my bible brought about an uncomfortable swirl of my insides and a despair I could not overcome.
The bible reading was the most unsettling of them all. I thought God’s word would bring me peace in the hardest of times. Why was it one of the very things that brought me the most despair?
In case you are worried, this is not a story about how I doubted God, found out He really didn’t exist, and then transitioned into a life without Him. This is a story about FOMO. That’s right, FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out. This is a story of how my “fear of missing out” fed an unhealthy lifestyle of good intentions with the wrong motivations, resulting in my eventual emotional breakdown, and a fear of my bible. It sounds absurd and unrelated, I know, at the time I didn’t get it either, but I see it so clearly on this healthier side of things.
I’m not here to make excuses or push blame onto others. My unhealthy thought process was a result of many life events, encouraged by many people, and finally, cultivated and accepted by ME; all of which I really don’t feel like going into right now. That’s for another day, maybe. But I am writing this because I want to warn others. I want others to see what can happen if you allow yourself to become a slave to FOMO. It ain’t fun and it ain’t pretty!
I didn’t realize I had a fear of missing out. If you asked me about it, I would have denied it. I pray and desire to follow God’s will for my life; that means I am safe from an unhealthy lifestyle, right? Wrong!! My FOMO was sneaky and cunning and never reared its ugly head with the name “fear” around its neck. My FOMO chose to hide behind several different masks (which also had masks of their own). Here is a list of my top 7 Undercover FOMOs:
- Don’t miss out on this opportunity to impress or please someone!
I never consciously thought “Oh, this would be a great opportunity to impress someone!” But when such opportunities arose I would think about who I would tell and swap stories with. Here is just one example of the many times I fell slave to this mask:
My husband used to be really into ultimate Frisbee. Most of our friends played on an ultimate team, my brother, and a great many of my cousins played as well. I was never a huge fan of the game – I am just not a team sports kind of girl. I can accept that now with joy, but several years ago I was not secure in this knowledge of myself. I knew it about myself, but I did not accept it. I desperately wanted to impress and please my husband, my brother, and their friends. I wanted to be one of the group. I wanted to be accepted by all, and I saw Frisbee as my “in”. So, when I was asked to play in a beach tournament at Wildwood, with my husband and his friends, I agreed. I don’t need to go into details of the weekend…but long story short, I did not impress anyone, I hated every moment I was playing, and I ended up feeling like I disappointed everyone when I refused to play the second day. I really just wanted to be a part of something and wear a matching shirt, and although I had the shirt, I never felt like I deserved it.
- Don’t miss out on this call from God!
This mask is the most cunning of all. If there was an opportunity that involved God, I could always talk myself into it being a “call” from God. And because it was a “call” from God, He would give me the strength and resources to complete the task, right? I now see that God would not call me into so many places at once. His goal was never to spread me so thin that I became almost nothing, I did that all by myself. For years I have been a part of my church’s work camp mission trip. I truly believe I was called to go the first year I went, but after that I went because it was expected of me. I convinced myself that it was a calling from God year after year. It was never a waste of time, and so many amazing things came out of it. I used those reasons to convince myself I should be there: “It’s helping others”, “I build better relationships with my teens on the trip, which helps me be a better leader”, and “I will be serving alongside my husband”. All these things sounded like things God would want, but I failed to see that God could do those things in other places as well. I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to be a “better Christian”, so I forced myself into a place I was not called into. Want to know what happened? Some of you may already know. Last summer, just days before our work camp mission trip, I had to remove myself from the trip. I had nothing to give, and I felt so empty and depleted that I feared I would never be filled again. I could not lead, I could not participate, I could not go, and as a result I left my group in a lurch and scrambling before a mission God had actually called them to. I truly believe my husband has been called to the work camp ministry, but my emotional breakdown was so bad I feared being without him for a week. I asked him to remain home as well, and the loving man that he is, agreed. I felt awful when I realized that my inability to accept my human limits was now affecting more than just me.
- Don’t miss out on this really cool story to tell!
I still get caught up in this mask. I love a good story, but I am slowly finding out that my clumsiness, awkwardness, outward-ness, and my ability to find inappropriate things funny (like an old woman rolling away in a wheelchair) are enough to supply me with a lifetime of stories. Plus, what’s the point of telling a good story if you didn’t think it was worth it at the time?
A good friend of my husband and mine told us of an adventure he took with his brother. It sounded like a blast, and my husband, brother, cousin, and I wanted to try it. When it came down to it, I was terrified. I was worried about logistics and being the only female. But, I wanted to be a part of the story. I wanted to sit around a campfire and tell this epic journey alongside my husband, brother, and cousin. I wanted to witness the sights and join in the laughter. But I honestly just wanted that. I didn’t want the actual struggle or experience. I wanted time with my husband, but I would rather it be on dry land and not paddling down the Potomac. But I once again, I didn’t want to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of an awesome story! So I forced myself to suck it up and go, and wouldn’t you know, literally hours before departure time I started running a fever and once again I had to remove myself from the trip. It ended up working out, but it left the others scrambling for another paddler at the last minute.
- Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make a meaningful impact!
This one is very similar to “Don’t miss out on a call from God”. I desperately want to leave my mark on this world, and make an impact for the good. I want others to know the love of Christ and experience the peace and joy that comes with that love. But I am also here to tell you that I am not a perfect Christian and I want others to see the impressiveness and impactful-ness of Liz! It’s gross when I say it like that, but it’s the truth, I want to impact others. Sometimes my desires are motivated by good intentions and sometimes by prideful ones. But I am realizing even my good intentions turn sour if I ask God to reveal his will to me and then get too busy to hear an answer. Sometimes I hear a “yes” from God, and sometimes I hear a distinct “no”, but most of the time I don’t hear anything at all. I used to think I didn’t hear from God because He didn’t really care what I did in this particular circumstance; it was too small or trivial for his Godliness. But during my emotional breakdown I had loads of time filled with silence because that was all I could handle. I spent upwards of two months simply being still in God’s presence. Not because I have awesome amounts of self-discipline, but because I literally could do nothing else. It was in these still moments that I heard God. I heard His will for my life in the smallest of details!
“God, I have so much to do, I need to clean my house, and grocery shop, and fix this anxiety problem, and…” “Just be and let it be”.
“God, I don’t feel you here, let me know you are here, I need a sign or something” “What would you like to see?”
It was in this stillness that I realized He cares about every small detail of my life. He wants to be a part of it all, even the things I deem insignificant. I started to see the importance of going to God for help with my decisions, and WAITING and LISTENING for an answer. If I become impatient and need an answer right away without receiving one from God, then I know the answer is “no”, for now. If something threatens to take me away from being still with God then I know right away the answer is “no”, until I can spend time with God and hear from Him. This is one of those practices that I have to continually relearn, because it is so easy for me to become distracted and lose sight of the importance of quiet time with God.
- Don’t miss out on this quality bonding time!
I have to constantly pull the mask off of this one. This one has a tendency to hold me captive around holidays and celebrations. I have the ability to convince myself to attend a party, event, or a “get together” even when I am stressed out of my mind and busy to the max. I convince myself that “these things don’t happen every day” and “once the holidays are over I will get back to normal” or “she only has one baby shower” and “you never get to see them”. However, I started to realize that these out of the ordinary events actually happen all the time, just with different people, and if I say “yes” to them all they quickly add up and take up all my down time. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love attending parties and events, I love spending time with people, and that is why this particular category is so detrimental to my emotional health. I can quickly get sucked into being a part of everything, because I love it all! But then, before I know it, all my down time, rest time, rejuvenation time has been replaced with time spent with others and I am left trying to give energy I don’t have.
- Don’t miss out on something that will help me become a mother!
Somehow I have believed a lie that I am at fault for the fact that I am not a mother yet. Because I have believed this lie, I have lived into another lie: that if I find the right “fix” I can become a mother. This has resulted in me spending mountains of physical and emotional energy on tracking my cycles, changing my diet, trying fertility treatments, crying over failures, thinking about the unfairness of it all, and rallying my energy to try it all over again. I did not want to miss out on being a mother, so as a result I did everything I could to become one. Instead of becoming a mother, I just became a failure at one more thing. (Don’t worry, I know I am not a failure in this area anymore, but it sure felt like that for a long time. I now know it’s not my fault.)
- Don’t miss out on this opportunity to trust God (which is ironic because all this fear comes from a lack of trust)!
How many times have I heard the phrase “trust God”? I actually have no idea, but it’s a lot. I always hear these incredible stories of people trusting God with huge things and then experiencing huge miracles. In Sunday school we are always taught to trust God, to think big, and not to put boundaries on God’s abilities. But there is a key point in all these stories that I failed to recognize: these people HEARD from God first. They spent the time with God, listening for God, and being still. I have already said earlier that I could convince myself anything God-related was a call from God and so I would run in to these situations convinced that God would provide the resources and give me the strength to carry them out. I felt that as a Christian it was wrong for me to doubt God’s power and to put his abilities into a box. So, I did countless things to prove to God that I trusted Him with my life. But the problem was, I was doing these things so that I could receive what I wanted in return. My motivation was not that I was handing these desires over to God and allowing Him to work in my life as He wished. I was telling Him I was trusting Him by doing such and such with the expectation that I would get what I desired. I wasn’t spending my time with Him and waiting for Him to answer. I was spending my time telling Him what I wanted and thinking of ways He could give those things to me.
I think it’s time I tell you about the baby car seats. I have been so embarrassed by this for years, because it marks how stubborn and untrusting I was. It shows how I was able to trick myself into thinking I was giving something over to God and trusting Him with it, when in reality it was just a ploy to get what I desired (as if I could pull the wool over the eyes of the creator of the universe).
Several years ago a read the book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. In this book Batterson talks about trusting God to provide a drummer for their worship band. If I remember the story correctly, Batterson saw a flyer with a drum set for sale. Batterson prayed and was INSTRUCTED by God to purchase the drum set before they had even found a drummer for the Church’s worship band. Batterson felt crazy and reckless to spend so much money (that they didn’t have) on an instrument that didn’t have a musician. But he trusted God’s INSTRUCTIONS and he bought the drum set, only to be contacted days later by an incredible drummer to fill the spot. Trusting God paid off!
I started to think that maybe the reason why I wasn’t a mother was because I wasn’t trusting God enough. If I just trusted more, then it would happen. I even was bold enough to think “if a crib was for sale on the side of the road, I would buy it just to prove to God that I trusted him.” I should have recognized the flaw in my thinking right there with the word “prove”. I never have to prove myself to God. It’s not about proving, it’s about trusting, but how could I trust God with His desire for my life if I never asked Him what His desire for my life was? And I never did ask Him, I just told Him what my own desire for my life was and asked Him to provide it.
So when two baby car seats sat on the side of the road for free, I thought this was a chance to prove to God I trusted Him. I picked them up and foolishly explained to my husband why I was coming home with two baby car seats. I felt crazy, but I just chalked that up to more proof that I trusted God. We stored those car seats in our basement for 2 years. Eventually, they started to grow mold and were even recalled for a buckle that had been known to pinch the skin of the baby secured inside. It was time to throw them away. I felt abused and tricked. I had trusted God, and I was willing to look like a fool for Him and still I was dry and barren, with no hope in sight. Was this act of absurdity not enough for Him?
It never occurred to me that God never asked me to do such a thing until now. At the time I was so overwhelmed with activities and busy-ness that I didn’t spend time LISTENING for God. I spent plenty of time praying and reading my bible, so I thought I was listening. But I wasn’t. I was talking, talking, talking at God. Like that person that talks at you and never waits for your response and never allows you to talk back, so before you know it, you have heard the ins and outs of that person’s life and have not even said any words above one syllable. I was that person with God. But God is patient with me and never gave up on me, even when I refused to stop and listen to Him speak.
When it comes down to it, every time I commanded myself “don’t miss out on this opportunity”, what I was really saying was, “I am scared to miss out on something” or “I have a fear of missing out”. Instead of listening for God’s instruction, I was a living out of fear. I thought joy and happiness would come from a life full of stories, experiences, and people. I didn’t realize that all this busy-ness was killing me. Do not be deceived, I have gone many years living this way without having horrible outcomes, and so I thought I was “ok.” My intentions weren’t “bad” or “immoral” in my eyes, so I naively thought they weren’t destructive. Old Liz would have had a fear of missing out on the college experience, or the fear of missing out on a good party. I can honestly say that becoming a slave to those fears was less destructive for me, because their evils were more easily recognized by me. Every morning that I woke up with a hangover was a physical reminder of the bad decisions I had made, and the consequences of those decisions on my body. But now, I knew I was unhappy and tired, and I just kept thinking “I’m just not doing enough”, when in reality I was doing way too much! I couldn’t hear God telling me to slow down and rest, because my head was constantly swimming with “what next?” and then BAM!!!!
Out of what seemed like nowhere, but in reality it was a long time coming, I crumbled under the stress of it all. I was at a Celebrate Recovery meeting and I lost it. I literally sobbed in the arms of my sponsor and just kept repeating “I can’t do it anymore”. I wasn’t exactly sure what I couldn’t do anymore, I just knew whatever it was that was making me feel this way (like I couldn’t breathe, and a constant upset stomach) I couldn’t do that anymore.
That was the moment the change started. My sponsor helped me clear my schedule for the next day. And over the next several weeks I removed myself from everything I was involved in except Celebrate Recovery. And for two months I did not have it in me to add anything back in. I was spent and bankrupt. I had anxiety attacks for hours at a time, with nothing to be anxious over. They just kept coming, and I could do nothing to prevent them.
In the beginning of my two months I tried to open the bible and read. Every time I did I felt like I was slapped with anxiety and fear. So I stopped trying. I spent the majority of my day sitting on my deck and watching the birds and squirrels, or hiking my favorite trails and falling asleep at the top of a mountain. It worried me that I couldn’t read God’s word without fear, so I prayed for a sign that He was still with me – a hawk. You can read the story of The Hawk here if you are curious.
I kept hearing God speak, but he often only said the same six words, “Just be and let it be.”
At some point I was able to name why I was scared of my bible. Every time I opened it up I felt like something was expected of me. I felt like I had to do something. I should be getting something from it. I should be hearing from God. I should be able to read this and be ok. I need to think of something profound and wise after reading. I need to “do something” with God’s word. It was all that “doing” in all areas of my life that drove me mad in the first place. So for a long time I didn’t do and just was. I heard God and I obeyed, “Just be and let it be.” I never realized that not doing anything would test my trust in God the most!
Very slowly I was able to add things back into my schedule, but not without consulting God first. I have been testing the waters ever since. Constantly making mistakes, but recognizing triggers when I slip back into my “do, do, do” mentality, and making adjustments. I am able to read my bible again without a wave of fear, and now when I read I know that nothing is expected of me, and my presence with God is enough.
I now understand why God never asked me to pick up those baby car seats. God has called me and Dean to adopt. The child chosen for us was not ready yet and honestly, I was not ready either. I didn’t understand what it truly meant to trust God with my life, until I didn’t want to live my life anymore. Every day that I continued to live I trusted God with my life, because I could not trust myself with it.
And you know what? He has done a great job with it! So now, I try my best not to live in FOMO but instead IGIT (In God I Trust). If I am still and know who God is, then I can be confident that I won’t miss out on the life He has planned for me!