(Volume 26, Issue 1, February/March 2020)
The best lies, the most potent lies, are rooted in deception. Obvious lies seldom get out of the starting gate, while well-disguised lies are racing around the track. John 1:5 informs us that Jesus is the Light that shines in our dark world, while Satan, according to 2 Corinthians 11:14, manifests himself as an angel of light. Few would be attracted to Satan and his schemes if he appeared as an angel of darkness, but masqueraded as an angel of light, as one very similar to the true Light, he is able to entice multitudes to his worldview. Those entrenched in satanic schemes, or doctrines of demons as Paul calls them in 1 Timothy 4:1, mirror the same techniques as their master, and infiltrate the globe as “false apostles,” spreading their erroneous teachings throughout the world. Their most effective method is to dress up lies in layers of truth. A piece of chocolate laced with poison will still be tasty, and bring initial pleasure, but the ultimate effect is deadly – even if delayed. That is, the immediate reaction of the consumer may be joy; the ultimate consequence is pain leading to death. All this brings me to Rachel Hollis and her wildly popular motivational book, Girl, Wash Your Face, which claims to be “about a bunch of hurtful lies and one important truth” (p. xi). Each of her 20 chapters dissects a lie such as, “I am not good enough”, “I’m not a good mom,” “I am defined by my weight,” and “I need a hero.” Within most of these chapters, the reader will find some helpful and practical suggestions such as the value of working hard, taking responsibility for our own life, having a positive attitude, and numerous other pieces of advice that are common rhetoric found in virtually any self-help, motivational book or speech. There is nothing original or outstanding about Hollis’s guidance and instruction; what is unique are her stories and her personality, which are obviously winsome to many. We will return to examine some of Hollis’s twenty lies momentarily, but first it should be noted that she also claims to be discussing one important truth, which is, “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.” (p. xi). There is much to commend this pronouncement, especially in a society whose members love to play the victim and blame others for their failures and unhappiness. But closer analysis is needed.
Hollis sees herself as an outrageous success, and anyone can be just like her if they will follow her formula. To be sure, Hollis identifies her many failures, presenting herself as vulnerable in the process. But there is a definite pattern here: Yes, she has often failed, but she has always recovered and ultimately succeeded in everything she has tried. For example, she was an alcoholic but now she has it under control; (although alcohol is still a central part of her life and mentioned in almost every chapter), she had an eating disorder (pp. 178-183) but no longer; she was so anxious that she was experiencing stressed-induced Bell’s Palsy (pp. 22-23) and vertigo (p. 26), but her anxiety is solved for now; her sex life was virtually non-existent but now is the “stuff of legends” (p. 74); she was once poor but is no longer, and purchases $1000 handbags just because she can (p. 136); she dreams of a Hawaii vacation home by the time she is 40 (p. 140-142) and being on the cover of Forbes (p. 71). As a matter of fact, Hollis is a success, even an expert, at bouncing back from failure (p. 55). The key, she claims, is to believe in yourself (p. 111, 129), because you can do anything you want to do (pp. 211-212). Of course, this formula is a tried-and-true mantra used by every motivational/inspirational speaker or writer, but Hollis adds her own unique twists. Let’s break her message down.
First, Hollis wants her audience to know, without question, that she is incredibly successful. She repeatedly references running half-marathons, and even a marathon (p. 16), writing books (p. 65), having an insatiable work ethic (pp. 19, 58), being once named one of the top entrepreneurs under thirty by Inc. magazine (p. 56), building a successful event and media company (pp. 20-21, 67), having millions of fans (pp. 127-128, 156, 209), and raising awesome kids (p. 160). I suppose if you are going to write a book telling everyone how to be a success, you have to display yourself as being the ideal model. Still, the constant bragging grows old; it is hardly the example of Christ, who modeled humility. Jesus once invited a crowd to follow Him and “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). This approach is not Hollis’s paradigm. Now is a good time to point out that while Girl, Wash Your Face follows the general approach of most all books in the motivational genre, Hollis is claiming to be a Christian and is writing for a large Christian publishing house (Thomas Nelson). Correspondingly, the reader has the right to expect at least some Christian focus and biblical insight. Sadly, such is virtually absent. In its place are the insights of self-help and psychotherapy, as well as deceptive and anti-biblical concepts and methodologies. Let’s take a look.
Formula for Success
Hollis’s formula for success has a number of essential ingredients. Some of these would be in step with Scripture, although Hollis never gives Scripture as her basis. These would include hard work, taking personal responsibility, ceasing to judge others (p. 37), and setting goals (p. 132). By employing these types of behavior, most people will experience a measure of success, depending on circumstances. But Hollis’s secret sauce is more complicated and contains numerous questionable, and even unbiblical, elements:
- Hollis credits most of her achievements and personal improvements to psychological therapy (pp. 22, 29, 30, 34, 126, 146, 158, 183, 184). She has done a lot of it (pp. 29, 126) and cannot recommend it enough (p. 30). If she “had Beyoncé’s money, the first thing [she’d] do is pay for therapy for every woman [she] could find” (p. 30). She cannot fathom surviving all that she has without a trusted therapist (p. 158). It has only been through therapy that she has been able to uncover her emotional needs (pp. 183-184). Not only is Hollis recommending that her readers turn to a false philosophical/religious system (psychotherapy) to solve their deep-seated problems, but she also never turns them towards Christ and His revelation found in the Bible. This advice leads to a dead-end. Hollis is drawing her followers down the pathway of human wisdom while ignoring God’s. This should be a red flag for anyone considering becoming another one of her fans.
- A second essential ingredient in Hollis’s formula for success is believing in yourself and doing your own thing. In essence, this is the theme of the book. Hollis assures everyone that they are beautiful and strong, and a courageous fighter (p. xiv). Everyone is meant to be the hero of their own story (pp. 5, 211) and the captain of their lives (pp. 4-5). There is just enough truth in Hollis’s message to make it doubly dangerous. While she is correct that “if you’re unhappy, that’s on you” (p. 5), her philosophy echoes the poem “Invictus,” (“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”) more than biblical instruction, which states: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Asserting that we should be our own hero flies in the face of New Testament teaching that “for me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). A contrast with John the Baptist comes to mind at this point. John called people to repentance, not believing in one’s self (Matt 3:1-8). And, rather than being his own hero, John depreciated himself and pointed everyone to his “hero,” Christ (John 1:26-34). As for her encouragement to do your own thing and not be concerned about what others think, there is some truth hanging around the edges. But for the Christian, we are doing “Christ’s thing,” not out own. Her philosophy of life is dangerously reflective of Hell’s theme song, “I Did It My Way.” Living in obedience to the will of God is conspicuously absent from Hollis’s worldview.
- Closely connected to the former is Hollis’s view that we all have the power to change our own lives. She claims this is the greatest lesson she can give her readers—that “only you have the power to change your life” (pp. 211-212). While taking personal responsibility for our lives is important, it falls far short of the biblical message. Paul writes “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). The great lesson of Scripture is that Christ can change us, first through regeneration—without any effort of our own (Eph 2:8-9). Then He continues to transform us through the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2), as we resist conformity to the world and enable God’s truth, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to move us increasingly toward Christ-likeness. Hollis’s message is fully conformed to the self-help philosophy proclaimed by the world. But it is not the message of the gospel, or of Scripture.
- Even more concerning is Hollis’s New Age methodology. The New Age movement teaches the law of attraction—which, by the way, the prosperity/Word of Faith movement mirrors and teaches. This is the view that we attract good or evil by the way we react to life. If we have negative thoughts, we attract negative things; if positive thoughts, then positive things. But it is a bit more complicated than that. In the New Age system, there are three distinct steps accompanying the law of attraction: visualization, faith, and speech. First, we visualize what we want, then we have faith (believe) that we will get it, then we speak out loud what we want. Hollis has clearly absorbed this anti-biblical philosophy and is regurgitating it for her readers without revealing the source. For example, Hollis starts with visualization and states, “You can shift your perception and fundamentally reshape your entire life” (p. 60). She then informs her reader to focus on their goals. Nothing is alarming about this until she presses on to the next concept—which is laced throughout the book—believing in yourself. In other words, if you have faith in yourself, nothing can stop you. Finally, she moves to the last step: “The Bible says, let that which is in the darkness be brought into the light. When things are allowed to sit in the darkness, when we’re afraid to speak them aloud, we give them power” (p. 61). Not only does Hollis mutilate one of the few references she takes from the Bible, she then uses it to support the third leg of the New Age stool. Later Hollis makes this even clearer, “Saying it aloud…Make sure when you name yours [goals], you do it in a powerful way…I announce them like proclamations” (p. 143). While setting goals, trusting in favorable outcomes, and articulating our dreams are not wrong, the particular methodology recommended by Hollis is drawn from the New Age law of attraction, not from Scripture. An important difference is that Hollis recommends these steps while offering a virtual lock on success if followed. The Lord gives no such guarantee of success.
- Mantras: Another facet of New Age mysticism is the use of mantras. Repeating certain words or phrases is supposed to bring about reality or other desired results. Hollis recommends repeating mantras such as “I am strong. I am smart. I am courageous” (p. 184). Mantras are designed to replace negative self-talk with something positive—“the thing you most need to believe. So come up with a mantra and say it to yourself a thousand times a day until it becomes real” (p. 185). Mantras in Hollis’s system apparently have the power to change reality. You may not be strong or smart, but if you tell yourself often enough that you are, then someday you will be. But mantras have no power to change anything. They are mere words.
- Handling stress. Hollis’s life is admittedly full of stress, as are most people’s. Throughout her life, she has mishandled her stress by turning to alcohol and drugs, overeating, workaholism, and other unhealthy means. Having conquered most of these excesses, mainly through therapy, she now recommends other ways of stress relief such as running, having dinner with girlfriends, praying, going to therapy, and crying. She writes, “Food, water, shelter, healthy relationships… those are things you need. Anything else you insert into that category becomes a dangerous crutch” (p. 194). While all of these recommended stress relievers are valuable, except for one quick mention of praying, this advice could be given by any secular writer. It is instructive, and concerning, to find not one reference to biblical guidance on stress. The Bible is full of such teaching, not the least of which is Philippians 4:6 calling on those who are anxious to cease their anxiety and make their petitions known to the Lord in prayer. The following verses in Philippians chapter four detail radical change in our thinking and living that will also result in the peace of God (vv. 7-9). Such vital and biblical insights are totally missing from Girl, Wash Your Face. We are left not merely with the wisdom of humanity, but the wisdom of one woman who believes she has discovered the key to success apart from the wisdom of God. As a matter of fact, at times Hollis seems to take on a God-like authority. At one point she writes, “You do not have permission to quit! I revoke that permission! I take away the power those people or circumstances put over your life, and I give it back to you” (p. 69). I am not sure who gave Hollis permission to revoke or remove power, or give it back—but it is scary to think she believes she has such authority. And it is infinitely more frightening to believe that someone would take her seriously—and yet apparently a few million have. This methodology moves beyond inspirational talk to cult-like behavior. Such authority resides in the Lord, not in any human, including Rachel Hollis.
- Recall that Girl, Wash Your Face is supposed to be at least loosely a Christian book, written by someone who claims to be a Christian, and is published by a prominent Christian publishing house. Keeping in mind that it is being read by thousands of Christian women, it is amazing to read of the clearly un-Christian views found within it. The area of goals is a good example. What should be the supreme goals of the disciple of Christ? Perhaps to grow in holiness, to become more like Christ, to serve Him more effectively, or to use our lives to the fullest for God’s glory. Hollis’s goals, as represented by what she has taped to her closet door, are to be on the cover of Forbes featuring self-made female CEOs, a vacation house in Hawaii, and a picture of Beyoncé (p. 71). The contrast between these two sets of goals, which clearly identify her values, needs little comment. But they well represent what Hollis’s values are and where she is leading her readers. If someone is looking for an inspirational, motivational book, full of hype, focused on self, and chasing worldly values, Girl, Wash Your Face is probably as good as most. If someone is looking for a book based on godly values, biblical wisdom, and focused on Christ, they need to look elsewhere.
Rachel Hollis professes to be a Christian, the daughter of a Pentecostal pastor (p. xii). Her family life was highly dysfunctional however, ultimately leading to her parents’ divorce and her leaving home at age 17. She speaks occasionally about God (p. 30), her higher power (p. 47), and worship, which she defines as “the feeling of expression or reverence for a deity” (p. 150), and claims that “writing—for me—is its own kind of worship” (p. 150). Biblical worship, however, is ascribing worth to, and adoring God. Hollis obviously has a poor understanding of worship. In addition, she gives little attention to the content of her Christian faith, but she is clearly tolerant of other faiths (p. 160), and lifestyles, including having close friends who are living immorally (p. 201). Her language is raw and inappropriate at times (pp. 20, 122, 210, 47, 49), occasionally bordering on blasphemous (pp. 21, 36, 50, 77).
Hollis’s message is that everyone should chase their own dreams, no matter how wild or ridiculous they might seem, “because you are worthy of wanting something more” (p. 70). If we will but believe in ourselves, chase our dreams, and follow her formula, then all will work out in the end—we will find success as she has. She adapts the typical self-help, motivational pattern, and as such some of her practical advice could be useful and worth considering. But as a book designed to guide Christian women in life, it is woefully inadequate. It completely lacks a biblical worldview while embracing a secular one. Since Romans 12:2 commands us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, Girl, Wash Your Face is leading its readers in a direction opposed by God.
by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher, Southern View Chapel