I had a whole bunch of important things to do yesterday so of course I settled down on my sofa with my device and googled, as I do every few weeks, “Rachel Hollis.” The first thing that came up was—and I can’t believe I missed this, I must be slipping—the important news that Dave Hollis is having some sort of new romantic rebound with someone named Heidi Powell. Well, as you know, I do live under a rock, but at least I have an internet connection, so I wandered around YouTube clicking on videos made by Heidi Powell. Turns out she’s kind of a big deal in the fitness world. It seems she sells some kind of meal replacement option, and she has a company called Transform.
It seems also that she was recently married to someone named Chris, together with whom she runs Transform, and Chris was supposed to be the person she was going to be with forever, but they both “hurt each other” a lot and so finally split up in 2019. This was upsetting both because Heidi didn’t really want to let go, even though things were so bad, and also she had been married before to someone called Derek, who now also works with the Transform company, and she fretted about the stigma of being twice divorced. She didn’t want to be “that” woman.
So anyway, Dave had been Instagramming her trying to get her to be on the Rise Together podcast, but she was in the middle of this divorce so she didn’t respond, but then, it just so happened that right after he announced his split up with Rachel, and Heidi messaged him to say she was so sorry, Dave asked her if she could come podcast with him about divorce, and she was going to be in Dallas the next week so it would be no problem to pop down to Austin, and they had a long and cathartic talk, though no podcast. Now if you click on official Heidi Powell links, a pop-up with her and Dave appears—30 days to a better you or something like that.
As I said, I had so many important things to do, so I watched the video about how Heidi met Dave, then I watched the announcement of her divorce from Chris and how she was going to move, then I watched the one of the new house, then I watched one about 14 foods you should avoid, and then a very informative one about how to lose weight and build muscle at the same time, something I have known was possible but was not curious enough to investigate. Then I finally faced the fact that it was Saturday night and what I usually do is read the lessons for Sunday, just so I know what I can expect in the morning. What unhappy thoughts might God have in store for me when I try to drag myself into the early dawn?
Turns out this week that Jesus is doing the same thing he always does, trying to tell his dim-witted disciples that he is going to die on the cross. They, of course, cannot believe him and so they are indulging in their usual activity, arguing with each other about who is the greatest. James neatly digests this ongoing dispute, not just for the disciples but for all of us, under the pithy soubriquet, “you adulterous generation.” You don’t have because you don’t ask, he says, and when you do ask you ask wrongly to “spend it on your passions.”
In all the years that I’ve been following Rachel Hollis—who I came to know about by way of Jen Hatmaker, who similarly is suffering a painful divorce, boy 2020 was the year—I’ve been fascinated chiefly because Rachel beautifully symbolizes for me the shifting cultural assumptions of this moment. If you want to observe how swiftly is wafting away the aroma of a vestigial Christian worldview, leaving in its wake a wilderness of smilingly insecure divorcees and life coaches, Rachel is as good a place as any to scroll. Better even than Kim Kardashian, another person I can’t stop googling on Saturday nights. The shift, I think, is manifested in the nature of old covenants giving way to new. The human person must make promises, but to whom? And what should the promises be? Christianity for many generations has said that you should promise yourself first to God, and then secondarily to other people. You come last, not because you aren’t worth anything, but because your passions are disordered. Everything you think and desire is slightly askew. When you pledge yourself to a God who was willing to die to put everything to rights, you are entrusting yourself to someone who will never hurt you, who will never give you something you shouldn’t have, who will join you to himself.
Somehow along the way, this pledge by God to his people came to feel much too restrictive and unkind. Christians themselves, it seems, began to mistake it, and think that if they just worked hard to keep God’s perfect law, everything would be fine. They tacked on the fact that Jesus died on the cross for your sins for good measure, but generally misunderstood the nature of those sins and the kind of death implied by the cross. After a while, as we are seeing now, the narrow legalistic constraints of trying to keep a hard law without the beatific vision of a gracious and life-giving salvation was, of course, too onerous to bear, and many people are throwing it over, though grievously only embracing another burdensome law in its place. You might see how unreasonable it is, for example, for God to demand that you remain chaste before marriage but not feel the impossibility of coping with several generations of racism by your own not very well-toned arm. Give it time, however, and you will find that task too much and throw it away and take up another. That is the comfortable, well-worn path of all human religion.
The thing that never goes away is the deep, unquenchable need to make a promise. Human people have to make promises. If they don’t make them to God and other people, however, who can they make them to? It’s not hard to guess. The promises you make to yourself are today the just, right, necessary, and holy covenants. And so, it doesn’t matter if you’re watching Rachel or Heidi or Kim or Jen or Glennon or any of the Priests of the Age, they each mediate to you your own promises to yourself. They guide you along the complex and painful path of choosing yourself and your own happiness, soothing away the grievous harms you deal out to those you love when you make this choice. Because what happens when you choose yourself first is cacophony and disorder—though not necessarily right away. Right away you feel a deep sense of relief that someone, You, cares enough to never let go.
But there is someone who cares more even than you. He is still alive even if everyone may have forgotten his name. That is Jesus. He is a better priest, a true husband. Where Chris and Derek and Dave and Kanye fail, he does not fail. He does not give up and go off with another blond who looks very much like the original blond. He doesn’t deal back the hurt that he receives. He doesn’t decide that it’s all over. The promise he makes to you is in his own blood and it can’t be undone. The result, says James, is a “wisdom from above” that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” If you have to make a promise to anyone, make a promise to Jesus because he will take it and keep it for you. When you’ve destroyed everything and hurt the children you love and the friends you need, he will still be there, offering you himself.