In A Reader’s Guide to 2019, RELEVANT contributor Sharon McKeeman takes you through 2019 book by book, offering wisdom, analysis and recommendations along the way.
Two decades ago, it wouldn’t have seemed crazy, but in today’s digital world Brit and Kate Merrick seemed to be committing career suicide. Brit, a pastor leading a network of churches through a vibrant online ministry, announced he will no longer share his preaching online, and Kate left social media right before the launch and promotion of her newest book. Their family decided they won’t have the internet in their home; they bought flip-phones.
In Kate’s book Here Now: Unearthing Peace and Presence in an Overconnected World, she shares how these extreme measures benefitted her family in ways she never could have expected.
The Merricks might as well be unicorns in this digital age, but they weren’t always as dramatically unplugged. Inboxes, social media feeds and online shopping were a big part of their busy and influential lives. Then, their daughter Daisy was diagnosed with cancer—four times. In Here Now, Kate lets us into the way facing the reality of life and death changed the way her family lived.
When Daisy received her third diagnosis and American medical doctors informed the Merricks there was nothing else they could do for her, the family moved to Israel to pursue experimental treatment. Kate tells us how as they flew across the Atlantic Ocean toward an uncertain future, they pulled the plug on digital connectivity. They entered an ancient land with a long history of political unrest and spiritual tension, and chose to sever their ties with the American hamster wheel of news, popularity and noise.
They ate breakfast together, talked, walked and surfed every good break they could find. They met young Israelis and native families. They felt out of place, but entered into sacred holidays. In the midst of it all, they found turning off their smartphones was just the first step toward a more meaningful destination than they imagined.
As the Merricks walked through cancer with Daisy, Kate explains how their hearts collapsed into the comfort and refreshment of Sabbath. They found it takes courage not only to turn off the noise and tune out of overconnectivity, but also be still enough to hear from our Father. Kate reminds us being quiet and listening means trusting what we will hear is for our good, no matter what.
The first hurdle to unplugging, Kate explains, is saying no to FOMO. Fear of missing out can keep us chained to screens while feeding us the lie that over-edited photos and quick sound bites are someone’s actual life. Saying no to FOMO means, in turn, looking your own life in the eye, whether it’s a stack of textbooks, a tedious workplace, diaper duty or—in Kate’s case—being by your daughter’s side as she undergoes chemo and passes from this world.
However, saying no to FOMO was just the beginning for Kate. Without constant connectivity, there is a void begging to be filled with what we were really made form and the Merricks found that void filled by the tightly-woven fabric of Isreali life. The Israelis pressed into their family, and when the Merricks asked why they were so open, the Isrealis’ response was, “It is our mitzvoh.” It was God’s command that His people should show His love to each other, to the foreigner, to the displaced and to a dying girl and her courageous family.
From this example, the Merricks learned to linger over meals, hold hands, take the long way home and soak up every minute they could in God’s creation. The Merricks learned these sacred moments don’t need to be conveyed on social media to really exist, because when a few moments are all you have with someone before you say goodbye to them, the only sane thing to do is dive into those moments with all you have.
But what about when grief has passed and you are left with normalcy?
Kate asserts these moments are still what life is made of: meals prepared, difficult conversations had, carpools driven. The things that make up our day-to-day build our lives. We were created by a relational God who wants to be with us in the reality of our messy daily moments.
Kate writes: “Presence is more than making eye contact with your people or setting your phone down or practicing meditation. It’s investing in your people, your situation, your actual life, not the people or situation or life you wish you had. Presence insists upon leaning into the daily grind, holding your ground when you’d rather check out. Practicing presence calls for a certain open-handedness with God and where he is taking you. Practicing presence is looking plain old life square in the face and saying, Yes you’re beautiful and you’re mine. Let’s do this.”
Kate remembers Jesus’ promise that time invested with Him is the one thing of utmost worth. This is why her family could take a risk on unplugging while leading a ministry and navigating careers that typically depend on social media. The greater danger than the possible career hit would be losing time with Jesus. Watching Daisy’s struggle with cancer brought eternal focus to the Merrick’s hearts. They don’t just sit with Jesus. They adventure with Him in all the beauty of His creation. A world where young girls battle cancer does not always seem good, but it always contains beauty created by the One who loves us and wants to be with us.
Here Now lays out practical ways we can put down the phone so we can seek and find Jesus in a deeper way. Kate isn’t about shunning social media and digital connectivity on every front, but she urges readers to think about how those mediums can work for us instead of giving them control over us.
It can be scary to show up here and now. Over the past year, I have had to find beauty in life and trust God while navigating life in a wheelchair. Kate encouraged me to keep showing up and relishing life no matter what curveballs it throws at me.
She says since we are image bearers, “God is capable of using our every moment to reflect his glory, to bring life to those around us, to be an integral part of the history of the world.” She learned this truth while sitting in hospital rooms with her suffering daughter and surfing the waves of Israel’s shores. I have been inspired by her to embrace “my real, tangible life,” whether I am walking or rolling, because it’s always about Jesus and loving the people He made.
Kate writes: “Pivotal moments pave the way for pivotal choices.”
Maybe you’re facing a situation as life-altering as Kate, or maybe the day-to-day has been discouraging and numbing you. Either way, in Here Now, Kate carries a message that “life is lovely and brutal and precarious” so “wherever you are, right now, give it your whole self.” Once focus shifts to eternal Life right here and now, it’s obvious the greatest risk isn’t logging off, but missing the chance to sit at our Savior’s feet.
Sharon is a writer, photographer and educator, living in Southern California. You can find more of her work on Instagram @sharonmckeeman and at www.sharonmckeeman.com.