Did you know that studies have shown that you are likely to enjoy a meal more if the menu is short? Restaurants with long, diverse menus leave their customers wondering if they might’ve chosen a better dish. It’s called “the paradox of choice.” If you think about it, the most difficult decisions in life are almost always between two or more good things. Choosing between good and evil is actually pretty easy — at least intellectually.
Sometimes, though, our path splits and two ways (maybe more) emerge before us. One seems just as good as the other… and then the pain. A choice must be made. Some choose this way or that, while others set up camp at the fork in the road and avoid the choice for as long as they can. But where does the pain of having to choose come from? A primary source of this pain is that a choice for one thing is almost always a choice against many other things. We can’t help but wonder what it might have been like if we had chosen differently. People sometimes call this FOMO (“fear of missing out”). “If I choose wrong, I might miss out on something great. I don’t know which way to go.”
The problem with this way of thinking is that the primary driver is fear. We take all the responsibility upon ourselves and leave nothing to God. It’s ultimately a faithless way to live. Our Lord reminds us: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).
There’s also the subtext of the “problem.” We struggle to choose between two or more goods. This means that the Good Lord has showered many good things upon His children. Perhaps, then, He is glorified and even delights in His children’s enjoyment of the good things He has given them, much like a father smiles on Christmas morning as his children open their gifts. In fact, I think we tend to waste a fair amount of time and energy agonizing over whether we are making the correct choice while the Lord would simply like us to choose whichever good thing we desire — so long as that choice is truly good and we can make a generous gift of ourselves through it.
Thomas Merton observes that our vocations are not “a Sphinx’s riddle,” which we must get correct or die. No, not a riddle, but more a smorgasbord. The Good Lord has set a feast before His children. Unfortunately our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs and we can only taste so much goodness on this side of heaven. I would argue, though, that a plate full of God’s goodness freely chosen is better than the plate that remains empty for fear of choosing the “wrong good thing.” Much like a growling stomach, the emptiness of a life lived in the avoidance of decision will be its own witness to our hunger for His goodness. The fear of missing out is the existential weight that a faithless person must bear. For believers, though, there is nothing essentially lost in choosing, since the abundance of God’s goodness awaits us at the eternal heavenly banquet. Choose, then, and do not be afraid (of missing out).
Father Conor Sullivan is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis pursuing continuing studies in psychology. He is currently enrolled at Divine Mercy University.