T. S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but I vote for January. Where I live, January is blizzard month. Christmas, with all its cheerful songs and twinkling lights cutting the cold darkness, is over and done. January finds me peeling Christmas lights from the frozen ground, lights that stopped working a couple of weeks ago anyway, and tossing them away like the bright hopes they represented.
We’re staring down the barrel of a new year, with new demands–or old ones depressingly unfinished. Maybe we accomplished what we wanted last year, and now we’re feeling underwhelmed with the results. Or we didn’t, and we feel guilty because perhaps we never will.
Then there’s the fear of missing out, also known as FOMO.
All your friends (well, it seems like all of them) are jetting off to someplace with palm trees and warm sun while you’re stuck in gray sleet, shoving snow boots on toddler feet for the fifth time in two hours. Someone you barely know on Facebook got a gorgeous cobalt-blue Mini Cooper with checkered racing mirrors for Christmas (fill in your dream car here—this is clearly mine) and is posting photo after photo, filling you with uncomfortable envy. Your rusty 2003 Civic isn’t looking so good by comparison.
Comparison. That’s the demon word. Comparison is really the coldest part of January.
In January, it suddenly looks as if everyone else has had or is going to have a better year, and we simply cannot handle our own envious souls. We dwell on the nicer things or more exotic vacation or better-behaved kids all our friends obviously have. In the cold dark days of winter, with little energy to do otherwise, we begin to compare lives.
That never, ever ends well.
I’ve been there. I’ve stared at the vacation pics. I’ve envied the writing victories of others. I’ve noted the college scholarships other moms seemingly wave in my face. And I’ve realized I have a choice. I can live in the wintry lie of scarcity, or I can choose generous joy.
A scarcity mentality tells me there isn’t enough to go around. If someone’s child gets into Yale, mine somehow has fewer opportunities. If a friend goes to Greece in January, suddenly there isn’t enough sun here in Chicago. If you get a writing contract or a job promotion, my chances are lower since, obviously, there is a limit to how many people can succeed.
A scarcity mentality is a lie straight from the wintry soul of the devil.
Here’s the thing we need to know: God doesn’t play the scarcity game. God is not zero-sum. He does not operate in a world where if one person wins, another must lose. God is a win-win God. He has enough for us all. We can never, ever, truly miss out.
FOMO happens when, like the older brother in the prodigal son story did (see Luke 15), we focus on what someone else is receiving and never see the depth of love in the Father’s eyes–love that’s been there for us all along.
“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1.17 NLT). God doesn’t shift—his love and provision for us never changes. It’s there, still there, through the most relentless January storm, no matter what anyone else has.
What do we to fight the chilling effect of comparison in this coldest, harshest month? We choose to share the joy. “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them…Be happy with those who are happy” (Romans 12:9, 15 NLT).
Click “like” on the vacation photos. Make an encouraging comment on the “proud mom” post. Say a prayer of thanks that someone received that promotion or gift of her dreams. No matter how many times that mama has bragged or how many pics she’s put up, just keep saying yes to her joy. I can guarantee this: FOMO dissipates in equal parts with the generosity of our joy for others. It never hurts us to share joy. It can help enormously when we feel the creeping icicles of envy stabbing into our hearts.
We can choose self-pity in the face of others’ joy or not. We can choose happiness for another or not. We can choose to compare our own circumstances to another’s or to accept both as good gifts from the Father of all lights.
We are not the victims of our own discontent.
Sure, for a lover of spring like me, January is still going to be kind of awful. I can choose, though, never to miss out on God’s good gifts right in front of me, no matter the weather.
Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor, mom of three, and author of five books. She likes to travel, grow flowers, read Tolkien, and research her next project. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and dark chocolate. Her passion is partnering with the next generation of faith. Jill blogs at jillmrichardson.com.
Photograph © Tony Ross, used with permission