Being a pastor is a high calling, but a very strange job. And one of the strangest things I do is to read bad books. Not bad in the sense that they are poorly written, but bad in the sense that though they purport to be Christian resources they are so deeply flawed they are not just non-edifying, they are dangerous to the believers who read and are influenced by them. And I just read a doozy, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (published by Thomas Nelson).
I know that there was more buzz about this book a few months ago, but I actually wanted to take the time to read it, and besides, it is still the best selling Christian book according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. (Full disclosure: Their statistics are based on data gathered and provided by NPD Bookscan. In the 1990’s I served as the managing editor of the Leisure Trends Group, now a division of NPD.)
I’m not going to critique the theology of the book other than to say that to the extent the author speaks about it, her faith is not Christian in any meaningful sense, it seems to be an Oprah-ish light universalism, albeit sprinkled with the occasional christianese phraseology. For the life of me I can’t understand why Thomas Nelson published this book instead of sending it to one of the other HarperCollins imprints.
This book is particularly poisonous because it is diametrically opposed to the message of Christianity; there is no grace in the book, it is pure law. And the reason I say it is pure law, not in the sense that you do good works to be saved (after all, according to Hollis everybody is saved) but in the sense that you must live according to a series of inflexible arbitrary rules is that “wash your face” is just an abridgment of “quit crying, wash your face and get up and try harder. Instead of Christ has done it all the message of the book is that you must do it all.
At its root this is a book about how to find your contentment in your temporal, earthly circumstances. The author’s essential argument is that you deserve to be happy, and that if you would be happy you must have your best life now (see what I did there) and that if your life is not the best now, you just have to try harder (girlfriend!).
But as believers our best life is not now it is then. We don’t focus on the here and now, we focus on eternity. If you try to find your contentment in your circumstances, you will never find contentment. This world, after the fall, was never able to satisfy, all it can do is create a longing for how things should be and will be in eternity. That is why Paul says that the key to life in adverse circumstances is not to try harder but to focus on eternity.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Cor 4:17-18
Paul in explaining why he is undeterred by circumstances say the reason is that his eyes are fixed on eternity. And there is good reason to look to eternity.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2
The author talks a lot about how she is “killing it” in some areas of life, and not so much in others. And she invariably ascribes credit for the areas in which she is “killing it” to her own efforts. There is no place in her thinking for God let alone His sovereignty; She has a functionally atheistic outlook. As Psalm 127:1 says “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” To be fair there is a place for effort and hard work in the Christian life (think of the ant and the sluggard in Proverbs – see Prov 6:6 or Prov 30:24-28 for example) but no matter how hard you work you’ll never work over, around, under or in spite of God’s sovereignty; ultimately you are not sovereign over your circumstances.
And as a believer you don’t need to work to “kill it”. Even if you were to “kill it” across the board, it would pale in comparison to what God has gifted you. Would you rather have a booming career, great health and a perfect marriage or what God has given you?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:3-14
That is the problem with telling believers to work hard to improve their circumstance and then find their contentment in them. It is telling them to work harder so that they might be satisfied in so much less than they already have. It is pure folly.
Of course do your best, and don’t wallow in self-pity during trials, but above all be content, after all Scripture tells us that godly contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). How do you pursue contentment? You don’t suck it up and just try harder to improve your circumstances, you follow Paul’s example.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:12-13
Don’t wash your face and try harder, turn to Christ. By all means do what you can, and pray for an improvement in your circumstances, but turn to Christ and find your contentment in Him.
Not only does Hollis offer empty foolish advice, she serves up a recipe for disaster. She calls for harder work to improve your earthly situation so you might be happy and content. James answers:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2
Aside from all of that, one other thing really struck me as I read, how completely self-focused the author is, and since in her book she is holding herself up as an example, she is calling her readers to selfishness too. The presence of 1st person pronouns is so overwhelming that by page 16 I decided to count them. On that one page, in 5 paragraphs she uses 23 1st person pronouns. You simply can’t be that self-focused and obey the command (and it is a command) of Philippians 4:3 to count others as more significant than yourself. Her pattern of thought is no example to follow.
All in all I wasn’t so much surprised at the content of the book as I was appalled that it is being marketed as Christian and was published by Thomas Nelson. My one sentence review of Girl, Wash Your Face: Christian, throw out that book.