Rachel Hollis is taking the Christian world by storm—and I get it. She’s beautiful, smart, ambitious, funny, and a crazy good writer. The girl can tell a story that will have you crying one minute and shooting Diet Coke out of your nose the next. She’s carved out a nice little corner of the internet for herself, cultivating a community more than a million strong and growing. She cooks, decorates, gives advice, and is known for her no-nonsense honesty and humor: “I love Jesus, and I cuss a little. I love Jesus, and I drink alcohol. I love Jesus, and some of my best friends are gay,” she recently posted on Facebook.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Hollis until a Facebook friend recently wrote to ask if I had read her book, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.
She expressed some confusion over the messages in Hollis’s book and on her social media platforms, so I bought the book and read it.
It’s no shocker that Hollis connects deeply with her audience. Having survived a difficult childhood and the suicide of her brother when she was in her early teens, the advice she offers hasn’t come cheap or easy. There was that time her boyfriend continually treated her poorly. After dumping her and smashing her heart into pieces, he called to see how she was doing. When she calmly said, “Hey, I am done with this. I am done with you. Don’t ever call me again,” and shut off her phone, I was sending high-fives and a hearty, “You go, girl!”
Sadly, Hollis doesn’t attribute this wisdom to knowing who she is in Christ. She credits self-love. Hollis is a self-proclaimed Christian, and the book is published by Thomas Nelson (a Christian publisher). References to the Bible, Jesus, her faith, and Christianity are peppered throughout the book. It’s not some kind of devotional—but it is marketed as Christian. And yet much of Hollis’s advice isn’t Christian, though some of it is still good.
Someone can hold to false premises and still land on truth from time to time. Should we take care of our bodies and our hearts? Should we set goals and work hard to accomplish them? Of course. But as Christians, the why and the how are crucial.
I find that Hollis has bought into five common lies that seem to be the starting point for all her advice.
Lie 1: You Come First, and Your Happiness Depends on You
Make no mistake, sisters. This book is all about you. Just in chapter one, Hollis writes:
“You are meant to be the hero of your own story.”
“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
“You should be the very first of your priorities.”
Girl, Wash Your Face is littered with references to self-love and self-care. In fact, the theme is so pervasive that it shapes how Hollis responds to everything—from hardship to trauma to parenting to working out.
Make no mistake, sisters. This book is all about you.
In all these scenarios, the answer is always something like picking yourself up by your bootstraps and striving and trying and running a marathon and getting therapy and reciting mantras and reading a good blog post (she may be on to something there) and seeing a guru and drinking wine and not drinking wine and relaxing and taking a vacation and keeping the promises you make to yourself. Anything but surrendering your life to Jesus and placing your trust in him alone. Your happiness, your success, your everything—it’s all up to you, ladies. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s good news. Jesus offers us true joy and peace, but only after we realize that we’re not the center of our own lives and that we’re no longer in charge. “If anyone would come after me,” he says, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Lie 2: Never Give Up on Your Dreams
Hollis spills quite a bit of ink trying to convince you that no matter what your big dream is, you should never let it go. Don’t take “no” for an answer, she insists. But instinctively, we all know this doesn’t work. This is confirmed each time we cringe at the tone-deaf American Idol contestant screeching his way through the audition, only to be told he has a different calling. We all know he should give up on his dream. We all know it’s not realistic.
Jesus never called us to chase after power, money, and fame; he calls us to follow him.
What is Rachel Hollis’s dream? I felt actual sadness when I read it:
I’m a big fan of displaying visuals inside my closet door to remind me every single day of what my aim is. Currently taped to my door: the cover of Forbes featuring self-made female CEOs, a vacation house in Hawaii . . . and a picture of Beyoncé, obvi.
Jesus never called us to chase after power, money, and fame; he calls us to follow him. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).
Lie 3: Religious Pluralism Is True
Religious pluralism is basically the idea that all roads lead to God. There’s no right way or wrong way to think about God, and my religion is no better or more right than yours. This is a message Hollis shouts from the rooftops. The only problem? It’s a narrow religious assertion. It’s a belief about God that claims to trump all others. What do I mean? If you claim that all religions are equally valid and true, then you’re excluding all religions that don’t affirm that view.
Religious pluralism is a dogmatic religious belief—and it contradicts Christianity.
Just because you believe it doesn’t mean it’s true for everyone. . . . Faith is one of the most abused instances of this. We decide that our religion is right; therefore, every other religion must be wrong.
Logically, this sentiment can’t be true—because all religions contradict each other at some point. And Christianity, by nature, is exclusive. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Religious pluralism is a dogmatic religious belief—and it contradicts Christianity.
Lie 4: Judgment Is Bad
Every time you tell people to never judge, you commit the very misstep you’re railing against. You’re judging those who (by your standard) are judgmental. This is highlighted in a particularly shocking section of chapter 1, in which Hollis gives a hypothetical example. She asks you to imagine a friend named Pam who has started several diets, only to fail two weeks in and gain back all the weight she lost. Hollis writes:
Y’all, would you respect her? Would you count on Pam or the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something? Would you believe them when they committed to you? No.
So, if you fail at a diet and gain your weight back, you can’t be trusted? I actually had to read that section three times just to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding her. I wasn’t. Can you see how judgy this is for someone who has a zero tolerance policy for judgment on her Facebook page?
We all make judgments. What’s important is that we judge rightly. As Jesus said, ‘Judge with right judgment’ (John 7:24).
When giving advice on meeting new people, Hollis advises that from the first handshake, “We pay attention to things like character and heart and wisdom and experience.” But how can anyone evaluate those things in another person without judging? I’m not pointing this out to criticize, but to illustrate why preaching “Don’t judge!” isn’t only impossible, but self-defeating. We all make judgments. What’s important is that we judge rightly. As Jesus said, “Judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
Lie 5: Sin Isn’t the Problem
This is the deepest and most pervasive lie that coils its way around the book, like a python choking its prey. I saved it for last, because it’s the bedrock on which all the other lies are built. Sisters, I can’t state this plainly enough: Sin is your enemy, and you absolutely can’t save yourself from it. You’re not in control of that situation. That may sound harsh, but it’s actually the best news ever. You and I are rebels against God. We can’t get around it. Everything that’s broken in our lives is because of sin—whether ours or someone else’s. And sin must be paid for. There is no peace between our sin and a holy God. Justice must be done.
This is the deepest and most pervasive lie that coils its way around the book like a python choking its prey.
But this is where the good news comes in. God sent his Son to live a sinless life, so that he could take the punishment of our sin on himself. He paid for it. On the cross, justice was finally done. And if we put our trust in Jesus, we can be made right with God. Does this mean that we won’t still have our struggles, or that we’ll magically have the power to never sin again? Of course not. But it does mean that we won’t have the same relationship with sin we had before. We used to be at peace with sin; now we are at peace with God, declared righteous in his sight. But there’s more. We’re not just acquitted; we’re adopted. Adopted? By God himself? That means I’m not a failure—even if I never lose the baby weight (my “baby” is 7—don’t judge). Even if I never successfully complete a diet. Even if I have a bad day and yell at my kids. Even if I never reach my financial goals or climb the ladder at my dream job. Even if my life consists of nothing more than living in quiet and humble service to the God of glory.
Don’t Read This Book for Rest
Reading Girl, Wash Your Face exhausted me. It’s all about what I can be doing better and what I’m not doing well enough. How to be better at work, parenting, and writing. How to be less bad at cardio, sex, and, you know, changing the world. But grasping the good news of who I am in Christ—and nothing else—is what brings true rest. So rest from striving, my friend. Yes, wash your face. Take care of yourself. Make good choices. But know who you are in Christ Jesus. If you let this truth become the foundation of how you see the world, you’ll be content to glorify him in every situation—whether cleaning bathrooms or relaxing at your beach home, changing diapers or crushing your career goals.
A version of this review appeared at alisachilders.com.