You know the feeling — a meeting is held but for some reason you missed the invitation. You find out late about a concert and can’t get tickets. Your friend gets engaged but she never told you about how she and her boyfriend were considering marriage. So from now on you are on high alert, trying to be certain not to miss out on important events. This is FOMO or “Fear of Missing Out.” Especially in the share-it-all world of social media, FOMO is hard to escape. We want to be included and take part, and it’s no fun when we’re not.
One of the mascots of FOMO in the Bible is Thomas the Apostle, otherwise known as Doubting Thomas. You might say that he had “the curse of the Blitz.” For those who watch “How I Met Your Mother,” you know what I’m talking about. In Season 6 we learn about the curse of the Blitz, named after Matt Blitz. Whenever Matt would leave a room, something amazing would happen, and he would miss out. This curse passed from person to person, generation after generation. In this particular episode Barney becomes the Blitz and misses out on some pretty miraculous things when he’s out of the room. When the current Blitz realizes he missed out he lets out an “Aww man!”
Thomas missed out on one of the most amazing things: an appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we find all the disciples in a locked room. But Thomas isn’t there. We’re not sure why he’s not there, but we can imagine the disciples recounting the scene to him later: “The doors were locked but somehow Jesus appeared in the room! He startled us, saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ We rejoiced when we saw him and could barely believe it until he showed us the wounds in his hands and side. But even more amazing was that Jesus breathed onto all of us saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ It was extraordinary! He gave us the gift of the Spirit so we could continue his mission here on earth filled with the Spirit of God! I can’t believe you missed it!” I can hear Thomas sighing, “Aww man!”
What an event to miss! Missing out on something spectacular makes us feel inadequate. Were we not important enough to be there? Thomas probably wondered why Jesus didn’t wait for him that night. But Thomas wasn’t “out of luck” as is the case with the curse of the Blitz. Rather, things happened the way they were supposed to because the Holy Spirit can’t be stopped from working when she chooses. FOMO reminds us that we are not in control. Things happen.
How many times has your own FOMO flared up when you were unable to be at an important event like a wedding or with a loved one as they die? It’s not because we’re valued less by God or the universe. In fact, in Thomas’ case, Jesus must have understood his feelings, so he came back for him another evening, saying, “Don’t worry, you haven’t missed out. Put your fingers in my wounds. It really is me.”
Thomas’ story is not just about doubt. (Anyone would have doubted such a wild story they didn’t witness.) His story instead reminds us that our “missing out” isn’t the end. There’s always something to “catch us up.” Jesus returned and Thomas had his own experience of encountering the risen Christ. His experience was not the same as the other disciples, but it was just as authentic. We may not be at the bedside of a loved one as they die, but those who are can recount the story, and we enjoy our own fond memories of that person. We may not have been fully clued into our friend’s romantic relationship, but we get to witness its growth and fruition. That “secondary” experience is just as important as being there for the first.
Thomas’ “Aww man!” becomes “My Lord and my God!”
FOMO is fed by unrealistic expectations of time, which doesn’t stop and wait for us — things happen as they happen. And the Holy Spirit, which came to the disciples in the Gospel story, could not be stopped either. We don’t read in the gospel story about Thomas receiving that breath of the Spirit, but I don’t doubt he received it in some way in his encounter with Jesus. He probably lost his fear of missing out because he came to trust that Jesus would let him experience the spectacular event of the Resurrection in his own unique way.