the exchange: denying ourselves for something greater

the exchange

No matter how hard I tried
no matter how many to-do lists I made
no matter how many new dresses I bought
no matter how many new houses I moved into
or new jobs I took
or new creative projects I launched
nothing would give me freedom.

Nothing would relieve the dark blanket of depression that covered my days. Nothing would quench the deep thirst that I tried to satisfy with alcohol, with shiny new stuff, with other’s attention.

I was under an invisible tyranny of my own making. I was flailing in my faith, unsure of this Christian way of life. I was watching my marriage go up in flames around me. I was medicating the pain in my heart with good times. I was sucking the energy out of the few friends that remained.

Why couldn’t I just make a fool-proof plan for my life and stick to it? It shouldn’t be this hard to live, I thought. Why couldn’t I just get my act together?

If Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face had come out when I was 25 years old and at my wits end, I would have eaten it up as quick as a Krispy Kreme fresh-hot-now. After all, the book’s style of language is very on-brand for who I was back then: spirited, colorful, uber-relatable-best-friend-type banter, just enough God talk to make me feel good about what I was reading, but couched in a hefty dose of personal responsibility. I craved that kind of leadership, the kind that pumped me up to take on the world. But Hollis’ book isn’t merely a practical guide for how to get out of financial debt, or how to prepare for a job interview, no, this is something more: a manifesto of sorts. A declaration of who is in charge. 

Think I’m exaggerating? This is what Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face asserts-

“know this one great truth: you are in control of your own life. You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by. Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it too. Stop accepting less than you deserve.”

Another quote, the summation of her message-

“The truth? You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”

Had I read this book 10 years ago, it would have lit a fire under me. These “truths” would have given me the permission that I so desperately sought to take control of my life and whip it into shape. It would have stamped a large “I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE” across the way that I was already living. I would have told anyone who asked that yes, of course I wanted to follow God! (And side note- during this time, the before-time, I was still uncomfortable with saying Jesus. God was general, God was safe. But Jesus was confrontationally specific.) To my relief, Hollis’ book would have washed a Christian-sounding lacquer over my self-serving choices. As Rosario Butterfield expressed about a similar duel-motive message, Hollis’ book “would have put a millstone around my neck.”

Hollis’ continues with her mission in her new release, Girl, Stop Apologizing. She echoes the message of her first book with the statement-

“All that really matters is how bad you want those dreams and what you’re willing to do to make them happen.”

And look, I get it y’all. I know that Hollis is trying to fit nicely into the self-help, motivational speaker niche and do it all with her naturally spitfire personality. And she is succeeding. Her books are best-sellers, her podcast tops the charts, and she sells out conferences every year. She seems to have it all! And in a very simplistic way, there isn’t anything wrong with showing up for your life. But I fear that she is encouraging young women -especially those that are discontent with who they are, restless in their life, searching for the magic key to change everything-  to take on more than what Jesus has asked of us. I fear that being “the boss” of your life and buying into the message of becoming a self-made success actually ends up forfeiting true freedom.

In Mark 8 we read about this great moment when Peter (the action taking, walking on water, lets-build-a-memorial, cut-a-guy’s-ear-off Peter) had just confessed that Jesus was indeed THE Christ that they were all waiting for, when Jesus begins to share a bit of his heavenly Father’s plan. This plan was dark, it involved suffering and shame and even death, and Peter did not like what he was hearing.

“He (meaning Jesus) spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:32-33, NIV)

Does this seem a little harsh? If I were Peter, I’m sure my cheeks would’ve burned and I would have been 100% okay with a giant sinkhole opening up and swallowing me right about then. Jesus was calling out Peter’s assertion of his self-will above the Father’s will and it was uncomfortable. So the scene is already tense when Jesus drops this bomb-

“Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (vs. 34-38 NIV)

The narrow way of being a Christ-follower is one that forces us all to make a personal and fundamental choice… who is in charge of my life?

We are born with a dominating self-will (ask any mother of a two year old!) We spend our days seeking out ways to make ourselves feel good, feel safe, feel accepted by others. We make the decisions, we call the shots. This dynamic of free will is one of purposed design- the Creator, the One Jesus called his Father, established it to be this way. But with the responsibility of our own free will, means there will come a time when we are challenged to make THE choice. The one that will determine our inner-state and the rest of our days.

This moment came to me in a fresh way when I was in my mid-twenties and watching my life fall apart. I frantically made decision after decision that somehow yielded the wrong result- not the carefree life that the world promised me, not the triumphant independence of going my own way- but misery. I was alone and broke and full of shame. And it was here that Jesus, the living personified Son of God, met me.

Jesus came to me in my darkness and he was not overcome by it. He came to me in my fear and yet, he was not afraid. He was not repulsed by my sin, or annoyed with my brokenness. His gaze cut through every one of my defenses and went straight to the core of me.

Jesus was also not offering me a free ride. No, he was asking for an exchange. My way for his. He was inviting me to a new way of living.

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

When we, as Christians, are told by well-intentioned gurus that we must take the reigns of our life and do what it takes to create our own happiness…are we not forfeiting the easy yoke of Christ? The way of the cross is not to assert my own will, but his. It may cause temporary pain and it might mean suffering, but it also renders a peace that can only come from letting Jesus lead my life.

The exchange also means that I don’t carry the burden of how my life turns out any longer. If times are hard, it will be his strength that sustains me. If times are good, it will be his sacrifice that humbles me. The circumstance doesn’t matter because by trading my life for Christ’s life, I am giving up temporal control for an eternal freedom. And he is the one sustaining me; he is the one who brings me deep joy.

Our innate impulse, as humans, is to give ourselves over to something bigger. We were made for greatness. In this way, I understand what Ms. Hollis is encouraging in her readers. We shouldn’t waste the one opportunity we are given on petty, inconsequential things. But my question is this- whose greatness are we building up? Whose glory are we working towards?

Just as Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” to Peter and he answered, in that sweet moment before his rebuke, that Jesus was the Messiah…so he is asking me and you the same question. Who is Jesus to me? Who is Jesus to you?

If Jesus is just another cool prophet guy in history, then his claim for dominion in my life is unwarranted. If he is however, the Christ and son of God, and if we choose, by his grace, to call him Lord, then we forfeit the right to rule our own days. We lose our life for his life and for the sake of the gospel, and in the wonderful economy of this eternal kingdom, we gain more than we can even imagine.

I am thankful that at a time of painful vulnerability, I had a few people in my life that pointed me to the true leadership of Christ. I am thankful that everything they told me about him turned out to be true. And I hope that every woman that reaches for Hollis’ book ultimately faces the choice of forfeiting her own self-life. In doing so, she will join me, and a million before us, in finding real happiness and fulfillment by being hidden in Christ.


Published by Sara Beth Longenecker

Sara Beth Longenecker is a writer and blogger based in Nashville, TN. She helps women sort through the noise of our culture by bringing them truth, beauty, and everyday theology.

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