The Freedom of Missing Out
“We need to find God and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees and flowers and grass—grow in silence. See the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Recently, at the dinner table, my husband and son were discussing a current news story. I listened, puzzled, and wondered why I had no idea such things were happening. When I mentioned to them that this was the first I’d heard of it, they were astonished. How could I not know? I had spent the prior week doing a partial social media and news fast, but I wasn’t totally offline. This particular story simply had not come through any of my narrow gates. They caught me up to speed, and we went on with our lives.
Still, I was vaguely troubled. Truth is, I take pride in knowing a lot of things about a lot of things. It bothered me that they knew and I didn’t. And there, my friends, is the difference between the virtue studiositas and the vice curisiositas. Let me just clarify from the outset that I think it unfortunate that the vice looks a lot like our word “curiosity.” Curiosity—a sense of wonder and of wanting to know—is not a vice. Curiositas definitely is.
We are wired to want to know truth, to understand our world and to recognize God in the natural world and in one another. That desire to know is not sinful at all. Strictly speaking, knowledge of the truth is good. It becomes a problem when the knowledge acquired puffs us up and makes us proud. The desire to know can be disordered and immoderate. When that happens, it is not studiositas (the ordered pursuit of knowledge), but it is curiositas (an intemperate intellectual gluttony).
Fear Of Missing Out is intemperate intellectual gluttony. That’s the hard truth. Like every hard truth, there is genuine freedom in understanding it. We don’t need to know it all. We don’t need to be included in it all. It is fine, and even virtuous, to cultivate a temperate life online. You don’t have to read it all. You aren’t ignorant or unsophisticated or uncaring if you exercise restraint. That isn’t sticking our heads in the sand. When we choose the good and intentionally consume only from the sources that contribute to our well-being, we are stewarding our minds and bodies for His glory. We don’t want to be ignorant of culture or politics or hardship or brokenness, but we also don’t need to sit in the counsel of the wicked. It’s liberating to know that we don’t have to keep up with it all. Not only that, we shouldn’t.
Human beings need large swaths of silence. The Internet is a source of incessant noise. It opens portals to suffering and to injustice and to lies and, yes, even to wickedness. It’s loud and it’s demanding. You were not created to carry the weight of it. You can’t argue all the untruth, right all the wrongs, or defend all that is good. You have permission—indeed, you are encouraged—to choose not to engage and to sit, instead, in silent prayer for all you know and all you don’t know.
Pay attention to the way you process information online. Know that just as we all process differently, we also produce differently. You might carefully craft and carefully edit before you press “post.” You might do that with your heart in your throat, worrying about how it will be perceived. Someone else might not give nearly so much weight to her post. Responding also differs. We each bring our own experiences and our own wisdom to the way we perceive online information. Prudence actually dictates that we be slow to speak, and that we do so with an awareness of the value of words and nuance. Sometimes, discernment bears out in silence. There is no shame when someone chooses silence on a particular issue. We are not all called to social media activism for every cause and every argument.
Prayerfully limit your time and your presence online. Then, embrace the limitations you have set. See that they free you to engage wholeheartedly both online and offline in the places where you are truly called. We are not intended to render inch-deep and mile-wide care. God has entrusted you with a few things that are specifically yours. Pay careful attention to those few.
Ponder with a pen:
Practice lectio divina with Ecclesiastes 7:19-29 . How can you test with wisdom the things you read online? What is the way towards slowing down and doing a check to be sure you avoid the “woman who is a trap” and you approach the Internet with mindfulness and a certain gravitas because you know it can be a lure away from what you really desire for holiness?
Consider Psalm 1:1-3 . Everybody has different patterns and rhythms in their days. Think about yours. How can structure your routines and your environment so that you return again and again to delight in the Lord instead of being lured away from His presence?
With Matthew 25:14-30 and 1 Corinthians 8, prayerfully consider what food you offer to which idols, and what talents you bury. Be honest with yourself and ask the Holy Spirit to shed light on your gifts and to inspire you to use them for His glory.
Memorize James 1:19-20 and make it a prayer you offer every time you go online.