Shepherding Students Through the Psalms
As we care for students in the complex situations they face, we are so aware that we need resources beyond ourselves—the resources of the gospel. Our students struggle with anxiety and addiction. They face troubling situations at school and family conflict at home. They feel stressed out, left out, and weighed down with heavy burdens. In these situations requiring pastoral wisdom and care, the Psalms are resources of great value for us and for our students. In fact, Jesus himself leaned on the Psalms quite frequently, alluding to them in moments of betrayal (Mark 14, Psalm 41) and deep distress (Matt. 27, Psalm 22). The Psalms remind both us and our students that we can be honest about our struggles before God.
Although the acronym “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) was only added to the dictionary in 2013, there is nothing new about the experience it names. During my freshmen year of college, I remember staying up until 2:00 a.m. for no reason other than I didn’t want someone to be doing something fun without me. We would sit on the porch outside our dorm and just wait to see who might walk by with some incredible adventure for us to go on. Was the result an exciting adventure with friends? No, it was exhaustion and probably the flu.
Today a teenager with a smart phone and social media can see exactly what she is missing out on in real time. Our students can open up Snap Map and see where all their friends are hanging out. They can watch all the fun these friends are having—without them. They know the minute they aren’t invited to something—and they can watch it like a television show. Can you imagine not getting asked to a homecoming dance, and then seeing the night unfold from various points of view while you sit at home alone?
The sense of missing out only increases for our students who desire to follow Jesus. They may be seen as goody goodies, or as “judgmental,” a prude, a virgin, or just plain “not fun”— all because they are clinging to God.
Psalm 73 is one I have turned to over and over again personally, and one that I have often used to guide students in their struggles with FOMO. Written by Asaph, a songwriter appointed by David as a prominent temple singer, this “wisdom psalm” speaks clearly into the heart struggle of the Fear Of Missing Out.
For I Was Envious of the Arrogant
The psalmist begins by confessing that he had nearly stumbled from believing the truth of who God is as he looked at the prosperity of those around him (vs. 1). He is essentially saying, “I know that God is good to some people, but is He really good to me?” He looks at the people around him who have no sense of who God is, yet seem to have everything together. He says they have no struggles and even mentions that their physical appearance is “fat and sleek” (vs. 4). Everything looks great—at least on the outside.
These people are so blinded by their own comfort and control that they scoff at the very God who made them. They look to heaven and laugh, “How can God know?” (v. 11). They have gone from “just having fun” to mocking the God who created them.
If we want to understand the modern equivalent of this ancient problem, all we have to do is scroll through Instagram. We see perfectly sculpted bodies, perfect skin, perfect makeup, perfect clothes, perfect families, perfect friends, perfect social life, perfect athletes, perfect…everything. All of these people seem to be living their best lives. It’s easy to imagine how our students look at the perfectly curated content around them and hear that slithering whisper of the serpent from Genesis 3 asking, “Did God really say?” This is where the Evil One wants to lead the students we serve, to disbelieve the God who created them and to believe instead that life comes from somewhere other than Him.
As a vocational youth worker, I confess that I suffer from this same fear. I’ve had countless parents and students ask me, “so what’s your real job?” I’ve envied friends with regular work hours, money that allows them to redo their kitchen, or simply the freedom to go out of town for the weekend without thinking twice. It is easy to look around and ask, is this really where I’m called? Am I missing out on something else, something better, something that would qualify as more successful?
Youth ministers, I encourage you not to dismiss the hardship that you or a student experiences in the midst of this kind of disappointment. It is real and it is hard. Just as the Psalmist doesn’t diminish his feelings, we should not diminish the pressure we and students experience. Asaph goes so far as to wonder aloud to the Lord whether he has kept his heart clean in vain (vs. 13).
Missing out, and especially being left out because you want to follow after God’s Word, is gut-wrenching. Jesus is realistic about this suffering in the Gospels. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). The Christian should not be surprised by suffering, but the psalmist gives permission to be honest in the midst of it.
Until I Went Into the Sanctuary of God
In the midst of his suffering, Asaph enters the sanctuary of God—and this is where we need to be leading our students as well. As we lead them to take refuge in the Lord, we remind them of the truth of who God is and what He has provided through the suffering of Jesus. Asaph asks, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” (vs. 25). In the presence of the Lord we too can join in this conclusion: There is nothing I’m missing out on.
Still, the psalms never leave us with a “get out there and get after it” mentality. Relying on their own self-control or strength will fail our students. Asaph acknowledges this when he says, “my flesh and my heart may fail.” As a result of the fall we know that our hearts and flesh will fail, but we invite teenagers to rejoice with Asaph: “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” As youth workers we must always be pointing our students to find refuge in the Lord’s strength, instead of our own “good behavior.” Only the Lord’s strength is everlasting and satisfying.
The psalmist ends with hope: “But for me it is good to be near God…” In the midst of disappointment and suffering, the psalmist finds that his place of greatest refuge is near the Lord. We need to remind students that they were made for relationship with God, to be near Him. Anything else they chase after will leave them empty. As they draw near to God, they will begin to see that He is who He says and that they can trust Him in the midst of all life experiences.
The Good News for FOMO suffers is that although sin had separated us from God’s presence, Christ restores us to the only relationship that will ultimately satisfy. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we aren’t missing out on anything.
A note from the editors: Psalms are meant to be experienced, helping us to take the truths of God’s character deep into our souls. Here’s a song based on this psalm for your encouragement: Psalm 73 by Indelible Grace.
 Merriam-Webster defines FOMO as “fear of not being included in something (such as an interesting or enjoyable activity) that others are experiencing.”