Girl, Follow Jesus
There’s a woman in your church who is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, founder and CEO of her own media company, business podcaster, sought-after motivational speaker, lifestyle-website producer, and global influencer.
Not only that, but she also looks and sounds like she could be your best friend next door. Her transparent style—sharing messy, real-life stories—and her proven tips for success have garnered her more than a million followers on social media.
As a professing Christian, you better believe that Rachel Hollis has forged meaningful relationships with the women in your pews. Her first self-help book, Girl, Wash Your Face (read TGC’s review), debuted last year and has been ranked #1 in Personal Growth and Christianity, as well as Women’s Christian Living, on Amazon for months and months.
In her latest book, Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, Hollis has gained momentum. She wants you to believe in yourself, to take great pride in your hard work and accomplishments, and to do so without shame and with gusto. She wants you to go hard and unapologetically after your dreams.
Hollis’s message this time around is, “All that really matters is how bad you want those dreams and what you’re willing to do to make them happen” (83).
For a woman who claims Christ, I’m afraid this is in direct opposition to his words:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25)
Jesus Says Deny Yourself. Hollis Says Believe in Yourself.
In this fallen world, all women are tempted to believe their lives are mediocre and disappointing. Hearing someone cheer, “You were made for more!” (xxii) is enticing. Women will be charging forward after hearing that all they need to reach their dreams is within themselves. They’ll be looking at Hollis—who built her empire with only a high-school diploma and a ton of energy and persistence—as the proof in the pudding.
For Hollis, salvation is found in ourselves:
“The real you is destined for something more . . . your version of more. This is who you were made to be, and the first step to making that vision a reality is to stop apologizing for having the dream in the first place. Like Lady Gaga says, baby, you were born this way . . . it’s time to become who you were made to be.” (209)
To get there, Hollis says: “First learn to love yourself well and give yourself credit; then reach for more” (62). She encourages readers to pick 10 goals, write them out every day, and meditate on the future vision we have of ourselves in order to get our subconscious involved. An example of one of her goals is, “I only fly first class” (101).
These practices are a far cry from self-denial. They are full-on faith in self.
And this faith in self only makes sense for a certain population in a certain context. How many people across history and across the globe can “believe you’re capable of making changes to become whatever kind of person you want to be” (18)? It’s a cruel joke to say to the disabled, to the poor, to the oppressed, “you’ve got to decide right now that you can be whoever you want to be and achieve whatever you want to achieve” (18). While that may be true for Hollis—a white woman in 21st century California—it’s not realistic advice for much of the world. Jesus promises rest, an easy yoke, and a light burden to the weary (Matt. 11:30), but Hollis’s message of self-determination is condemnation.
Jesus Says Take Up Your Cross Daily. Hollis Wonders If You’ve Got Time for That.
Hollis asks, “Is your schedule populated by things that will make your life better, or is it dictated by everybody else’s wants and needs?” (25). She reasons, “Being occasionally inconvenienced is a part of life, and if you’re willing to [serve others], then you better be willing to demand that they do it for you” (140).
On staying home with her kids, Hollis says:
“It’s not my spiritual gifting. It’s not in my wheelhouse. You know what is in my wheelhouse? Building a successful business, managing a team, writing books, giving keynote speeches, crushing it on social media, strategizing, branding, PR, and planning live events where a thousand women fly in from all over the world to be inspired.” (80)
Lest you think I’m passing judgment on Hollis for being a working mom, I assure you that I’m not. I’ve been a working mom for all of my children’s days. But taking up your cross, sacrificially serving others, and staying home with hard, messy, needy children who don’t say thank you isn’t in anyone’s wheelhouse. I fear Hollis’s instructions will be happily heeded and lead to the emboldened absence of wives, moms, daughters, sisters, and friends who enjoy pursuing their dreams more than loving the least of these.
It is absolutely possible to be a passionate and hard-working Christian businesswoman who pursues her dreams without losing her soul. I have witnessed many myself. I’ve seen them daily confess their need for their Maker and Savior. I’ve marveled at their hard work on behalf of the kingdom, and praised God for their acknowledgment that all they have and do is by and for Jesus (Col. 1:16). It is indeed possible to build a business, a career, maybe even a global empire in a way that loves God and neighbor.
But the methods taught in Girl, Stop Apologizing aren’t the way to do it.
Jesus Says Follow Me. Hollis Says Follow Yourself—and Her.
In her opening pages Hollis says, “I am not an expert. What I am is your friend Rachel, and I want to tell you what worked for me” (xxiv). The book is then laid out accordingly: first it’s letting go of excuses, then it’s adopting certain behaviors, and finally it’s acquiring needed skills for your dreams to become reality.
In following her, you are instructed to follow only yourself. Hollis says, in fact, you should follow yourself so wholeheartedly that, if you sense any guilt, you will label it as
“holy crap. No, seriously. [Guilt is] a load of crap wrapped up and pretending to be holy. I don’t care what religion you were raised in. You weren’t taught guilt and shame by your creator. You were taught guilt and shame by people.” (49)
Follow yourself. No apologies.
You May Gain the World, but Lose Your Soul
If you follow Rachel Hollis you may indeed gain the world. But what about your soul?
I’m here to beg you to reject Hollis’s teaching, because it’s both exhausting and damning. It’s exhausting to believe in ourselves, because that belief is only as good as we are. It will only suffice for as long as we have ample energy and good behavior and right thinking. And we already know that we get tired, we mess up, we fall short. We need more for this life than we’re able to conjure up within. Ironically, believing in yourself will not lead to freedom or wholeness or to the pinnacle of your dreams, but rather to enslavement. Enslavement to self.
And second, believing in yourself is damning. It’s a foolish and grievous thing to triumph being self-made over the kind pursuit of the God in heaven who has made a way for us to be reconciled to him. Until we fall on our knees, come to the end of ourselves, and surrender to the goodness of our loving Father, we remain in the domain of darkness, destined for hell, justly earned by the wages of our sin (Col. 1:13; John 3:36; Rom. 6:23).
Friend, our Father stands ready to transfer us to “the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14). The stakes are high. They are eternal. They span heaven and hell. This is no time to believe in yourself. This is a blood-bought moment in which you may turn from yourself and trust Christ.
The Good Life Starts with an Apology
Contrary to the message of Girl, Stop Apologizing, becoming the women we were meant to be starts with apologizing. It starts with the humble acknowledgement that we were made by a beautiful and holy God, and that we rebel against him in countless ways every day. It starts with recognizing that Jesus died and rose to rescue us. And as once-hopeless sinners who have been mercifully forgiven, it starts—and continues, and ends—with treasuring Christ above all.
Becoming the women we were created to be means following Jesus, believing in Jesus, living for Jesus—not ourselves. Scripture could not be more clear:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14–15, emphasis mine)
We were made to be more than self-made. We are God-made. God-rescued. God-loved. Only as we orient our lives and dreams around him will we experience true and lasting joy.
Girl, let’s start with an apology. Let’s turn from a self-focused way of life to a Jesus-focused way of life—and therein find true life. For it’s in him, not in ourselves, that we find the path of life, the fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).
Author’s Note: This article first appeared here, at The Gospel Coalition.