Why Is It Important to Be Present Here and Now?: An Interview with Kate Merrick
Does life seem to be passing you by? Are you so busy that you’ve become disconnected from your actual life? The one you’re living right here, right now? How can we stop neglecting the lives we’re living today and instead intentionally walk in the peace and fullness God offers moment to moment?
Bible Gateway interviewed Kate Merrick about her book, Here, Now: Unearthing Peace and Presence in an Overconnected World (Thomas Nelson, 2019).
Why did you write this book?
Kate Merrick: Six years ago, my 8-year-old daughter was dying of cancer. In a desperate attempt to save her life, our family spent three months in Israel seeking alternative treatment. We left our smartphones behind and went completely off the grid, listening hard to what God had to say to us in that time. It was a radical experience of slowing down, of observing Jewish holidays, of being in an ancient and holy land. Having come off of a time of not only frantically searching for a cure, but of planting churches and raising kids, of social media and blogs and juggling home and ministry, it became a time of parsing out what was truly important. I realized then that life is a collection of moments. We can either lean in to each one, building a beautiful life, or we can allow the noise and the busy and all the superfluous things to drown them out, essentially tearing that beautiful life down.
I learned these things when death was staring me in the face, but really, death is staring all of us in the face. All of our days are numbered, and life is a unique gift given to each one of us. I wanted to be fully present, here and now, and I wanted to give that gift to my readers as well. The book is a journey to discovery, filled with stories and laughter and a few tears—I don’t take myself too seriously, but want to relate an important topic with my readers as sister to sister. (Or brother).
What do you mean when you write, “leaning in to real life is super hard”?
Kate Merrick: I’ve found that one of the most difficult things we deal with, especially in today’s culture, is reality. Meaning our actual friends, our actual job, our actual kids, our actual life. We keep looking at everyone else’s and wondering why ours is found lacking. So, rather than accepting and pouring into what God has for us, we find ways to check out, to waste our moments by becoming numb to them. When we chronically do this, reality becomes a thing to ignore rather than embrace. Leaning in requires that we take an honest look at where we are; spiritually, relationally, even practically. And then it takes courage to accept what God has for us, whether we asked for it or not. But when we do the hard work of examination, confrontation, and investment, we find ourselves in ripe ground for building a beautiful life, one moment at a time.
What is “practicing presence” and what are its biblical roots?
Kate Merrick: Practicing presence can look many different ways. On a micro level, it’s setting aside distractions (the constant draw of technology) and giving other people your full attention or focusing on a single, beautiful activity like baking bread or making art or hiking. Or taking the time to notice small yet miraculous things: the breeze in your hair, the callouses on your man’s hands, the softness of your preschooler’s cheek, the savory flavor of your food. It looks like an open heart to the people God has put around us, our relationships, the beauty of community. This is a good start.
On a macro and most imperative level, it looks like prayer, like listening to the Holy Spirit, like agreeing with God that you’re here for “such a time as this,” and making the most of where you are in life. I find examples of this in Mary of Bethany, listening at Jesus’ feet while being criticized for it, and yet her practice of presence culminates in eventually pouring out perfume in worship on those same feet. I see Esther doing the hard thing in the crazy life she found herself in the middle of, risking her life and saving her people from genocide. And I see Jesus as he spent time with his disciples, as he gave children and the marginalized his full attention, as he spoke with his neighbors and community, and going off to be alone with his Father.
What are your warnings in the book about the pitfalls of “online communication suffocation” and how does the biblical mandate of Sabbath factor into it?
Kate Merrick: Our culture’s new normal is a firehose of information, communication, entertainment, and accessibility. When we don’t manage them, they manage us. Every moment we spend juggling our social media outlets or email or other online activity, it takes away from what and who is actually here and now. We end up crushed under the weight of all we’re expected to carry and do, and in the process we trade what’s beautiful and real for what’s simply vying for our attention. Especially with friendships. We give up true and deep friendships with our closest people for the ones on our screens, and don’t get to experience being truly known, being truly vulnerable. We have a false sense of connection, and while it’s fun to see what everyone else is doing, ultimately FOMO (fear of missing out) creeps in and feeds our discontentment with what we’re seeing on our screens.
We need to have limits, someone to stop us in our tracks and remind us what’s real, what’s good and true and beautiful. That’s where Sabbath enters in. It’s God’s mandate of rest, of face to face connection, of slowing down and enjoying the gifts of food, community, of remembering that he is in control. It’s an ancient and beautiful way to bring us back to earth and bring peace back into our crazy pace, yet seems to be the one commandment we feel justified in consistently breaking!
What is the concept of “with” and “with-ness” you write about (and its biblical foundation)?
Kate Merrick: The core of presence is deep love and connection with those around us and with God. I was really thinking on it and praying about the “why” of presence, and I realized I see it in the grandest love story of all time: the incarnation. Jesus is our ultimate example of presence and being “with.” In the Garden, God was with Adam, and when he couldn’t be any longer because of the separation of sin, the gospel plan of “withness” was put into place. The life of Jesus shows me that being with us is worth shedding blood for, it’s worth touching lepers and loving outcasts and giving grace to the disgraced. We read all through the Old and New Testaments how he desires to be with us: Psalm 116:1, Zephaniah 3:17, Matthew 28:20. And, as I’ve come to learn over the years, if it’s good for Jesus, it’s good for me.
How do you want people to change their lives after reading your book?
Kate Merrick: I want my readers sowing into each and every moment God gives them rather than wasting it on numbing out. I want my reader to slow down, take a good long look at her heart, and have the courage to get rid of what’s stopping her from going all out in her actual life. That can be scary, but in Ecclesiastes 3:11, we learn that God has made everything beautiful for its own time. In order to make changes, we first trust God with our lives. Then we can break it down in to the smaller moments and make smaller changes that yield huge results. From taking a break from social media to going outside to play; from choosing to invest in the harder, grittier parts of life to observing a weekly Sabbath, we hand our lives over to the One who made history—who’s making our histories.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Kate Merrick: Practicing presence sounds serious—I’m convinced we sometimes make it out to be this mindset of deprivation or like it’s sitting in a quiet room alone. But it’s just the opposite! There is so much playfulness and joy and FUN when we lay down the noisy busy and lean into our one, real, gorgeous life. So, have fun with it; enjoy Jesus, creation, your people, good food, Sabbath, dancing, music, the Word, all of it! And no matter where you find yourself in life, whether it’s plain or painful or full of change, God will make everything beautiful for its own time.
Here, Now is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Kate Merrick is the cofounder of the Reality family of churches along with her husband, Britt. The author of Here, Now: Unearthing Peace and Presence in an Overconnected World and And Still She Laughs: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering, Kate speaks, writes, and lives with her family, five chickens, two goats, and two miniature donkeys in Carpinteria, California.
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