I hesitated. My finger hovered over the keyboard on my Mac.
This had not been a snap decision, but once it was made, I was resolved not to reconsider. I pushed the key to delete me forever . . . Or so I thought.
My face showed a visible frown as I read the next screen. Did I want to Delete or Deactivate? I paused as I briefly rethought my decision. Time seemed to slow as the two words momentarily hung in the air. Delete or Deactivate? My cursor was poised over “Continue to Account Deletion.” As I heard the keyboard button click, I thought NOW my account was deleted.
Yet, the tenacity of Facebook’s grip lingered as the next screen inquired if I wanted to keep using Messenger. If so, I should only deactivate my account. Since I had not owned the Messenger app, this did not capture my interest. I was also told I could download my Facebook information of my photos and posts. No need. I clicked on “Delete account” one more time. At this point I discovered second chances really do exist. My account could be restored in the next thirty days if I changed my mind.
It was April 17, 2022. Easter Sunday. Later the significance of choosing Resurrection Sunday to delete me would not be lost to me.
Approximately ten days later, my husband inquired, “So, what is it like to no longer be on Facebook?”
I reflected for a few moments. What was it like?
Previously, my Facebook account had not been attached to my hip, so to speak. I would frequently allow several days to pass prior to checking it, and I would only post approximately every two to three weeks. Thus, my deletion of my Facebook account did not suddenly afford me a void of time to fill since I had not been giving Facebook large portions of the clock. Had anything really changed for me?
Yet, something was different, and I was surprised when I identified it.
I had an increased sense of freedom. Freedom to be me.
Despite the fact that I had irregularly checked my Facebook account, it’s talons dug deep even when I was not logged on. There was a sensation that individuals were looking over my shoulder, and I was hoping to gain their approval. Their sway over me evolved with each posting. If I posted something I thought was meaningful or clever, my reward may be only 6 likes while for another post I received 50 likes. Such intermittent reinforcement from Facebook friends held me fast. The depth of friendship was inconsequential for the amount of influential weight they carried. If I had not seen them in 40 years or had only met them one time, their approval still mattered.
Intermittent reinforcement means individuals do not receive a reward every time they perform the task. They can repeatedly perform the same task, but they are unable to determine when their actions will produce a reward. Hope is kept alive as they receive a reward just often enough to cause them to keep trying. Hope springs forth eternally with intermittent reinforcement, making it highly addictive. This is what engenders the addictiveness of gambling. The gambler optimistically anticipates, “I’ll try just one more time.” “Maybe it will happen this time.”
I discovered, by deleting me, that the unseen audience was gone, and with it, a yearning for their approval. Much to my surprise, the invisible chains that had held me fast, fell away, and a new freedom was born.
It wasn’t simply my need for approval that clouded my opinion of Facebook. It was also the false sense of connection. Borrowing from Brené Brown, connection for me is a sense of energy that one experiences when one is valued, seen, and heard without judgment. That sense of energy transpires most frequently when I am face to face with people and not simply relating to them via posts on social media.
I discovered that social media could trick me into believing that I was genuinely connecting when I was reading, liking, and commenting on posts. But in reality, I was comparing and competing, which terminated connection. Friends’ posts could lull me into believing that everyone else’s lives were fun and exciting. Typically, posts consisted only of newsworthy news of achievements, vacations, and excitement. While I cognitively recognized this (and I even did it myself), the comparing-and-competing gene overrode such knowledge, and my self-worth plummeted.
I realized that I was replacing my posting on Facebook with my seeking out genuine connections. If I posted something that I deemed clever, thoughtful, or noteworthy, I assumed people saw it on Facebook. This removed the necessity for me to directly contact them. Therefore, instead of fostering a sense of community, isolation only increased.
One of the concerns I had prior to deleting me was that my only contact with many people was via Facebook. But I came to understand that being in contact did not a connection make. I decided that if people were really desiring to connect, they knew how to contact me via texting, emailing, phoning, or even mailing a letter. Interestingly, of my 500 Facebook friends, only one asked me via text if I was no longer on Facebook. Perhaps people were really not paying as close attention to me as I had made myself believe.
So . . . in the end, I made the decision. The thirty days came and went. I did not change my mind.
I am not the first one to log off of social media, and I probably won’t be the last.
Granted, going cold turkey is not necessarily for everyone. Some support an approach to social media that seeks to reap the benefits while avoiding the unhealthy effects. Emma Lembke is one of those individuals. She started a new student movement in June of 2020 called the Log Off Movement, which encourages her peers to log off as necessary. Unlike a complete deletion, The New York Times notes that Lembke supports remaining on social media to glean its benefits while avoiding any harm to one’s mental health.
While deleting me included a concern for my mental/emotional health, it also was about personal transformation. It was more than a simple act in relation to Facebook—it was an act of new life in relation to my very being. For some time now, my identity has been slowly undergoing a transformation, and deleting me was a piece of that.
While not planned, deleting me on Resurrection Sunday turned out to be a day I was re-born.
My decision to delete me revolved around a wrestling match with my ministerial calling. As a pentecostal, one’s calling to ministry frequently includes supernatural encounters with God. Such encounters generate clear direction and purpose. According to Susan Maros, this type of clarity in calling is deemed similar to a GPS that instructs us, “In one mile, turn left.” Much to my chagrin, however, the recent messages I have been receiving on my journey of identity transformation have been, “Re-calculating.” But this had not always been the case.
My own call to serve overseas in ministry involved more than one, unexpected, supernatural divine encounter—sort of like a modern Abraham or Moses experience. Ministry within my context is typically regarded as a calling to be a teacher, pastor, or missionary, with the latter being the highest on the pedestal. Now, I wasn’t looking to become a missionary. I mean, “snakes, spiders, and scorpions, oh boy!” was not an adventure I was seeking. Yet, when I sensed that I was called, I assumed, along with my denomination’s missions board, that this call was a lifetime commitment.
I mean, seriously, God calls us to go, not come home, right?
I was wrong. My assumptions shattered. My discovery was that it was much harder to obey the call to come home than to go. Disorientation emerged. My dream to be a successful missionary died along with my identity and purpose. [For more of my own story, read The Unmapped Experience: An Escort to Empathy.)
Unbeknownst to me and as hard as it is to admit, I now see how I had made the call to ministry all about me. Serving God was all about my being an influencer, a celebrity. Ministry in my context underscored those who had large ministries or large churches. Thus, if I was to be successful and live up to the multiple divine encounters about my calling AND other people’s expectations of me, I too was to be well-known in order to sway the masses.
It sounds egotistical, I know. I had swallowed hook, line, and sinker the message that it was all up to me. I was the center of the story. Facebook contributed to that understanding. Ironically, I now regard social media as not about sociality (with deep connections) but individuality (with isolation). Chris Nye writes:
“We’ve constructed monuments of ourselves: profiles and personal websites and feeds that are all about us, serve us, and (in our minds) glorify us . . . Online, the world actually does revolve around us.”
These aspirations for fame are not unique to contemporary Western culture, but rather, according to Nye, it’s a human problem. By drawing from Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer, Nye notes that we have believed two lies since the beginning of the fall of humanity. The first lie appears in the account of Adam and Eve who “chose to be like God instead of with him.” The second lie, writes Nye, “is that we absolutely must make a name for ourselves.” In Genesis 11, we read of “the story of the tower of Babel, whose construction managers and leaders make the vision of their project to ‘make a name for ourselves’ (Gen. 11:4).” In the words of Nye:
“[N]othing much has changed. Our habits and goals revolve around being something like a god—renowned in the world and worshiped by others. We want to ‘make a name for ourselves.’”
Andrew Root asserts that we are focused on having, not being. Having a name. Having fame. Having knowledge in order to be like God, not with him, which is the sin that occurs in the Garden of Eden. Such a focus on having, as Root argues, places us at the center of the story.
But like my journey of identity transformation is teaching me, I am not the center. This is God’s story, and I am a participant in it. According to Root, we are not the stars but the narrators of God’s story, and as narrators, we serve the “primary characters in the story. Though the story is not about the narrator, the narrator is crucial. Paul proclaims only Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).” This is the narrator’s role. It is not, as Root notes, to answer the question “‘Who should the church in Ephesus or Corinth be?’”
If this is God’s story, then, my identity begins and ends with God (thank you, Bob Kaylor), not with how I compare to others. Picture with me the Western concept of a linear timeline, in which the timeline represents God’s story, and you and I are placed on that timeline in the 21st century. We are definitely not the center since God’s story began long before we were born and continues long after each of us is dead and gone. Instead, we are people in God’s story with an opportunity to be participants in the healing of creation. We are the narrators who discern how God is ministering in the world while embodying the message of Christ and him crucified as we join God in that ministry.
Joining God in ministry entails surrendering for this is how God ministers to the world. Jesus did not cling to his equality with God (Phil 2) but lowered himself. Jesus did not grasp for fame (Luke 4:4-8) but emptied himself of the desire to have. I too must surrender my desire to have—more likes, more followers—if I seek to participate in God’s story by embodying the message of Christ and him crucified. Genuine life, according to Jesus, is less about being an influencer and more about living out the dialectic of losing my life to save it. This indicates the story is not about more of me but less of me. It is more about the denial of me, or maybe we could say the deletion of me.
There may come a day when I return to Facebook, but for now I am learning about less of me. Of course, it would be nice if less of me was as easy as pushing the delete key. But it isn’t. It is a journey of identity transformation, a sanctifying process if you will, that grasps that I am not the center of the story after all.
 See Susan Maros, Calling in Context: Social Location and Vocational Formation. Downers Grove: IVP, 2022.
 In our interview with the denominational missions committee to be appointed, we were asked if this was a lifetime commitment or if this was simply a short-term stint we would do for a while. The manual for fully-appointed denominational missionaries also underscores that this is a lifetime commitment.
 Chris Nye, Less of More: Pursuing Spiritual Abundance in a World of Never Enough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), Kindle edition, 97.
 Nye, Less of More, 101-102.
 Nye, Less of More, 103.
 Root writes, “Sin enters the world because Adam and Eve are tempted to make knowledge and knowing more important than being. They encounter God’s being in the cool of the garden, but they are tempted to make knowledge . . . [which is] represented in the tree and its fruit at the center of the garden . . . more important than being.” Andrew Root, Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2022), Kindle edition, 78.
 “The church has idolatrously made itself the subject of its own story. The church’s story has become about the church and its possession of its religion, not the God who is acting in and for the world.” See Root, Churches and the Crisis of Decline, p. 87.
 Root, Churches and the Crisis of Decline, 91.