By Kate Merrick
It seems more and more, as we live in the digital age, there is a counterfeit for every real thing. We stare at screens instead of looking out windows at meadows and mountains. We envy other people’s pictures, though they’re often filtered and angled so they portray something that isn’t genuine. We prefer to send emojis and text rather than talk face-to-face. In fact, just this morning, I was talking to a friend and making plans for our families to camp in Baja. He remembered Britt uses a flip phone, so he asked me if Britt texts. When I told him he’d have to call, he said, “Nope, I don’t call people. That’s way too intimate.” He wasn’t kidding.
Since when did the phone become so intimate? Remember when a phone call was like copping out? It used to be considered distant and impersonal to only have phone conversations and never face-to-face. Now it’s a feared thing, bordering on inappropriate. Like, I can’t believe she called me. What does she think, we’re related by blood or something? Just recently I made a new acquaintance at a dinner party, and after chatting and bonding over shared experiences for two hours, I handed her my phone so she could enter her number. She paused and stared incredulously at the phone like I had just asked to borrow her underwear, then reluctantly put her info in. After that reaction, I decided I wouldn’t be calling. Or even texting. Apparently, connecting privately and not on social media has become uncomfortably close.
Oddly enough, with the whole world invited into your business, it’s social media that feels uncomfortably close to me, but in a noncommittal way. One of the deepest issues with social media is that it creates a false sense of connection. It affords people privileges into other people’s lives that usually only close friends are allowed, yet without the loyalty and responsibility of true relationship. We can now see inside people’s homes without being invited, witness their vacations and Christmas mornings and children’s milestones, all with- out the commitment of getting in the car and bringing a salad, changing each other’s kids’ diapers, or helping each other move to new homes.
We get the affirmation boost and the warm fuzzies of compliments when we post, and we get to feel relational when we comment, but these things are a shabby substitute for actual, real community. Actual, real community is far more than a shout-out. Actual, real community is far richer in relationship. It means you laugh together till your abs are sore; it means you cry together till your mascara’s gone. It means your dearest friends will see you in your shabbiest clothes eating ice cream straight from the carton on the floor of your kitchen and still love you, that your baby will throw up on their cashmere sweater and they won’t bat an eye. It means you offend each other with misunderstandings and then hear each other out, hugging in the end. It means you fight hard in prayer for the things that never hit the highlight reel: the kids going sideways, the bank account being overdrawn, the medical scares. It means you borrow each other’s clothes, that you exclaim, “You’re rocking your new mom bod!” with sincerity and congratulations; it means you squeeze your muffin top and make your belly button tell jokes while getting dressed together on a girls’ trip. It’s the real thing. Genuine and satisfying.
Actual, real community is a full plate, with the protein, the fiber, and the fat that goes deep and satisfies, while online “friends” can only offer a meal of Sour Patch Kids. Bright, sweet, and addicting, but in the end too much makes you sick. We can’t survive on fake, friends. It’s time to put our social media into submission. Let it be a fun side dish, not the full meal. Let it be a tool to share goodness, not to wallow in comparison. Let it enhance and supplement life, not rip it off. Take back your community; revisit your “friend” situation. Unfollow anyone who is causing you turmoil; unfollow anyone who makes you feel inferior. Post with care, and never post if it means interrupting a pure and glorious moment—it won’t be worth it. Once you get the hang of it, contentment is allowed space to bloom. And you start to see that your life is pretty beautiful after all.
We need to be ruthless when it comes to things that inhibit presence in our face-to-face relationships. We need to ask why we hold each other at bay with screens and fingers flying over our tiny keyboards, creating what- ever image we want to portray while we miss out on reality. What are we hiding from, and what is the result? Is there a better way, and if so, what is it? My family and I asked ourselves these questions when death was staring us in the face, but really, death is staring all of us in the face. None of us can afford to miss out on the real for the contrived: today is all any of us has.
What are the true ingredients of relational life, the ones that cause us to nourish and flourish? Can we go back to the things we’ve rid ourselves of in the name of efficiency, in the name of productivity? I’m talking the good old analog days of reading facial expressions and body language. Valuing quality over quantity in our friendships. Being okay with not seeing everything there is to see, not keeping up with the latest rumor or outrage or sound bite. Looking for the good and true and beautiful that’s right in front of our faces.
Just the other day I lazily watched the sunset from my patio with my treasured best friend of a husband, feet propped up, head tipped back. The sun radiated gentle and kind on our faces while the neighbor’s horses flicked their tails in the fading light. As we clinked glasses, I turned to him and said, “I’m so glad I’m not sharing this moment with anyone else.” My moments are my own, and sharing can be limited to those closest to my heart. It’s almost sacred.
To be encouraged to enter into deeper presence, rest, play and authentic community get a copy of Kate’s new book “Here, Now” on Amazon.
Kate Merrick is the cofounder of the Reality family of churches along with her husband, Britt. When she’s not writing, speaking at retreats and conferences, or #slayingmotherhood, you can find her at the beach, in the garden, or making delicious messes in the kitchen. She lives with her family and a flock of chickens in Carpinteria, California.