On January 1, 2018, I deactivated my Facebook account. I had been an active Facebook user for about eight years, but I was starting a three-month sabbatical from pastoral ministry in my church, and I was concerned that the purposes of the sabbatical would be impeded if I spent time on social media. I also had numerous games on my phone, and I deleted those as well. Finally, I managed the church Instagram account via my phone, and I gave that up too.
On my laptop, as I navigated through the menus to get to Facebook’s deactivation page, I started feeling nervous. The social media giant had been a significant part of my life for a long time. I shared photos, articles, and kept up with my family, friends and church. All that scrolling through post after post after post. It seemed that extricating myself from that connection would be detrimental. My body actually felt anxious and fearful. Maybe I was making a bad decision. I’d read numerous stories of people who deleted Facebook, and I longed for freedom from the constant pull of fear-of-missing-out.
Similarly, I spent time on Facebook to be present where so many people were spending time. In fact one ministry leader stated on his podcast that pastors are being irresponsible if they aren’t active on Facebook. It makes good sense: be among your people and your community. They aren’t learning about your church by visiting your physical building. Instead they are first spending time on your website or on your social accounts. Now I was removing myself from that. Was I stupid?
To address this, we created a social media team to manage our church Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as the church website and podcast. All those digital connection points have continued to this day. I was the only one leaving social. Still, I was scared that I was making a mistake, personally and missionally.
A huge amount of work had gone into creating this sabbatical, though, and I really wanted it to go well, for me and the church. As I deliberated my Facebook decision, it was the purposes of sabbatical that won the day. Sabbatical has its roots in the word “sabbath,” first mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures when God himself takes a sabbath, a day of rest, after working for six days to create the universe. God embedded that concept of rest into the life of the nation of Israel. This Saturday break from work has numerous benefits, not least of which is a trust in God’s care for their needs. By not working on the 7th day each week, they are in essence, reducing their income by nearly 15%. That’s no small amount. The same goes for sabbatical. It is a period of intentional rest, designed to give a person an opportunity to refresh, and to trust in God. I wrote about that more here, and I knew that I didn’t want Facebook to get in the way. Cognizant of my tendency to open Facebook frequently, I could easily see myself wasting precious sabbatical hours on social media.
I hovered the mouse over Facebook’s “Deactivate” button, and I was sure something would happen after I clicked it. It felt momentous, significant, and very possibly consequential. Visibly shaky, I clicked my mouse and deactivated my account.
And nothing happened.
Not that first hour, nor that first day. Nothing happened for the first week or month. It was oddly calm and quiet. I thought for sure people would notice and contact me. Of course they would, it was such a big deal! They didn’t though. Over the course of the three-month sabbatical, being off Facebook had no discernible negative impact to my life. That has continued for the whole year. No one got angry. No one felt neglected. Or at least they never told me about it. A couple times people messaged me, as I kept Facebook’s Messenger app for that reason. But that was less than a handful of instances, over the past year.
As a result, this lack of impact was very eye-opening to me. I thought of all the hours I spent on Facebook, often justifying to myself that I was connecting with people, spending quality time learning about their lives. But with Facebook gone, I gained a new perspective on social media: it doesn’t matter.
Sure I missed out to some degree. I haven’t seen recent photos of my nieces and nephews, for example, but I still saw them at family events and got to catch up in person. Recently I found out about an acquaintance that got a new job six months ago. If I was on Facebook, I would have known this information all along. What I discovered was that missing out didn’t matter; it didn’t impact me at all. If something important was going on that I needed to be informed of right away, people still got in touch with me.
Removing Facebook actually added something that I believe is quite important. Intentionality. Rather than passively learning about friends and family on Facebook, if I wanted to express interest in them, I would have to be intentional about it. That intentionality is a very good thing, showing that I care about people.
I’m not saying that Facebook is bad or uncaring or that it is not possible to be intentionally friendly through social media. A person can be very healthy and intentional about their use of social media and the plethora of other digital communication and community resources available to us. Given their extreme popularity, many find that their use of social media is beneficial. But I didn’t. While I was on Facebook, I thought it was great. Once I removed myself, I realized how unnecessary it was. Frankly, I wasted a lot of time on social media. I own that. I made the choice. Now a year later, I’m so glad I’m not on any social media.
Will I ever go back? I can’t say. But I don’t think so. What I’ve found on the other side is far better.