I love this so much. It’s short and very much what we all need. It starts out this way:
Parents (and especially moms) everywhere sighed in relief when they learned that even the “queen of clean” could not quite pull off her own advice. In January, self-help star Marie Kondo joined a long list of lifestyle experts who have renounced pronouncements made at an earlier age on how to live life well. Kondo was launched to international fame by a 2010 book on decluttering and organizing that she wrote at the age of 26, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she instructed readers to throw out any of their belongings that did not “spark joy.” The book earned Kondo a Netflix series in 2019, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and scandalized academics and book-hoarders with her advice to subject even our beloved libraries to her trademark “KonMari” cleaning method, purging every title that fails to spark sufficient joy. After all, she writes in her book, “in the end, you are going to read very few of your books again.”
No matter how many times I read Kondo’s thoughts about books it always makes my blood–metaphorically of course–simmer. I have such a hard time reading new books. I am inclined to read the same ones over and over. That’s one reason why I do like Audible. It lets me quickly listen to books I know I will hate and then I don’t have to look at them on my shelves afterward. In this genre is almost everything of the self-help variety. On audible and kindle I have Girl Wash Your Face, Girl Stop Apologizing, The Mountain is You, Of Mess and Moxi, and on and on and on. They keep company with The Making of Biblical Womanhood and something called Red Lip Theology which I have never managed to finish because I just can’t.
Whereas, the books I love I read over and over in which ever kind of order I want without having someone standing over me to tell me to do it. This week, because I felt like it, I started rereading Elizabeth Goudge’s Cathedral Trilogy. Matt found a used copy (all three in one volume) for less than 699$ which is what it has been available for as long as I have wanted it. Anyway, this post isn’t about books. It’s about young people giving advice, like poor Josh Harris. The writers have this enormously helpful insight about why it’s so disappointing when advice dispensers morally fail:
Sadly, 22 years after publishing I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris not only renounced the book but also renounced his views on human sexuality and his Christian faith, and divorced his wife. The problem here is not so much the message but the messenger. As Mohler observed, “a very loose dating culture had indeed brought a great deal of sin and grief to so many young people.” But if a dating culture run amuck truly was a “training ground for divorce,” as Harris argued in his book, then we need relationship self-help books whose authors’ own lives have proven divorce-proof. After all, we read self-help books not solely for the message but because we find the lives of the authors “blessed;” in such lives we find vignettes of the good life.
Amen, come Lord Jesus. Yes. Their lives look “blessed.” They look like they have something to say worthy of hearing. They look like they have found a secret to something special and lovely. They are invited by the Self-Help Industrial Complex (a dubious invitation if you ask me, more like being exploited for money and then thrown out when their skin stops shining) to tell the secret, to lay out the steps, to “tell their story.” All the consumer has to do is buy the book and try her best and she also will be “blessed.”
Even so, I do find the self-help movement a strange phenomenon. It seems to derive so much of its growing energy* from the hopelessness of post-Christian vestigial puritanism. Everyone wants to be both good and prosperous, but no one can remember why. The loss of the hope of glory makes each and every tiny temporal decision into a mountain that must be scaled or all is lost. Josh Harris and Mari Kondo are less spectacular versions of this. Rachel Hollis–whose ex-husband Dave tragically and unexpectedly died this week–is the poster child for why people should not look for advice from the celebrity stranger. Relatableness derived from social media, though it gives off the impression of friendship and love, does not actually equip a person to tell other people what to do. Rachel and Dave should not have been doing marriage conferences at any point, no less than a few months before their divorce. There should be no market for Rachel’s podcast and books. But, of course there is because ordinary people are unhappy and long to have an easy fix for the misery of life.
As the Bible ceases to be a source of spiritual nourishment, the spiritually starving wander the internet wilderness looking for people to tell them what to do with themselves. Along the way, they might flip open the Bible looking for advice, but they mistake what sort of book it is. The way to find out what to do with yourself is not to read the Scriptures looking for instructions, but rather to find the deep friendship of God traced through its pages. When you go to be fed by him, along the way you will find that he organizes also how you should live your own life, which will be different from how he arranges other people’s. He will gradually join you in friendship to other people–not cookie-cutter people who all fold their clothes properly or give up dating or always remember to do their daily affirmations–but strange people who, as you come to love each other, gradually gain the right and the honor to give you counsel and advice.
Which is to say, don’t ask me what you should do. If you don’t want to read the Bible and prefer Kon Mari, that is totally your call! Have a nice day and pray for the Hollis family.
*Why? Why hasn’t the whole industry collapsed yet? WHY?