This post is a wrapper-upper for two series. How efficient is that? I’m at the tail end of a review series on the amazingly eye-opening book Fooloproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. The first two posts HERE and HERE give you a list of “fool qualifications” taken from Proverbs to help you discern whether or not your difficult person is a real, Biblical fool – or just a person with foolish behaviors now and then. (Like the rest of the human race.)
I promised that in this next post I’d talk about what kinds of things we can do—action we can take—choices we have—when it comes to dealing with our fool. And that’s what I’m going to do here, but this also will answer a question I posed when I ended my short series on women and submission a few weeks ago which you can read HERE and HERE and HERE. Here’s the question:
I’ve tried having mutual conversations with my spouse, but we never get anywhere. He’s always right. My opinions matter little to him. He tends to dismiss and minimize any of my concerns. Every attempt on my part to engage in a meeting of the minds is met with either hostility or laughter. I often leave conversations feeling guilty. Like I did something wrong to even bring up an issue. I often feel confused and stuck. What do I do?
The second half of Jan’s book is geared toward helping the “fool’s companion” deal with their fool in a wise rather than foolish manner. All quotes below are taken from this last section, and here’s how she introduces it:
When I listen to these sad tales, the question that always comes to my mind is, What will it take for this “companion of a fool” to stop doing the same things over and over again? A wise person’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” My heart cries out, When will you stop giving your life away in little pieces? When will you assume responsibility for the life God has given you? The only way to foolproof your life is to stop being foolish yourself.
To come to a place where you can handle a fool wisely, you need to come to understand and believe some things.
1. Correcting a fool never works.
Proverbs 19:19: “A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.”
One of the reasons we keep trying to get through to our fools is that we believe that if we could just come up with the right words or the right way to say them, our fool will finally “get it” and change. The light bulbs will turn on. They’ll cry out, “Oh! NOW I GET IT! I will change my foolish ways!” Not happening.
The Bible says, “Understanding is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly” (Proverbs 16:22, NASB). In other words, any attempt to correct a fool is useless because “discipline” is foolishness to one who despises wisdom, mocks at guilt, and starts quarrels. This is the great dividing line: If discipline does nothing to change the fool, then your focus must be on you and your “understanding.” Wisdom must become your goal and your hope. It must be your safe haven and your delight.
2. You have to change your game plan.
“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.” (Proverbs 26:4 New Living Translation)
Change for you means that you stop doing what you’ve always done, and you do something different. One of the first things you need to change about yourself is how you think about your situation with your fool. I loved this section in the book:
A doctor friend of mine described what had happened to them this way: “When you relate to a fool, it’s not just irritating or abrasive; it will alter who you are. I work on furniture, and if I want to get rid of small imperfections or smooth out a rough place, I use a fine sandpaper, something that is coated with many small, fine grains. I think of those abrasive grains of sand as the people God uses in our lives to help us grow. Their presence is a challenge that we are better for having overcome. They are people who are different than we are, and as we emotionally rub against them, they help us get rid of some of our imperfections. We can be better for having interacted with them even if the situation wasn’t pleasant.
There’s another kind of paper, and that’s the kind that alters the very appearance and contour of a piece of wood. If I want to change what this wood looks like, then I get out the coarse paper. It has very few grains, but the grains that are there are large and powerful. With a few swipes of the paper I can do some major damage. That’s what relating to a fool is all about.”
It was interesting to me that none of the people I talked with said that while they were in the thick of their involvement with their fools they were truthful, caring, kind, loving, or spiritual. And there is a reason for that. When you allow a fool to define who you are and you fail to correct his definition, you become the exact representation of who the fool says you are. If you are called “stupid” and you believe it, then you can act stupidly! If you are called “crazy” and you believe it, then you take on the behavior of someone who is crazy. You see, part of the tragedy of continuing to engage a fool is that, despite all of your protestations and efforts to alter him, you are the one who will be altered—and not for the better!
Attempting to relate to your fool is time-consuming and exhausting. Remember, a fool will give you no rest (see Proverbs 29:9). And if you have no rest, then your mind becomes muddled. It is hard to make a decision. It is hard to think about anything except what your fool is doing or saying. So you can see why beginning to focus on yourself can be a royal chore. You almost have to peel your eyes off your fool even to see anything about yourself other than how you are affected by his behavior. If you are entangled with a fool and you are feeling like a piece of soft pine that has been altered, scarred, and indelibly changed by the coarse sandpaper of your fool’s defining work, there is hope for you. Just as a fool’s tool is foolishness, so the instrument you can command is understanding! When you understand, you will be able to see things as they are and respond appropriately.
3. Then prepare for kickback.
Fools do not like game-changers. They often react with more intensified blaming, anger, lies, and attempts to send you down the river on yet another guilt trip. They may get other people you care about to collude with them and define you in negative ways. This is quite uncomfortable. If you believe them, you may even cave and revert back to old habits. In fact, this is likely to happen anyway if you are just waking up to the realization of what is going on in your relationship. You may have to cycle through this a few times before reality sinks in and you come to a place of acceptance and readiness to seriously change. Living and walking in Truth hurts sometimes. But it also ultimately sets people free.
4. You can become an adult in relating to your fool.
A child has little self-control. They just say what they want to say and let the words fall out. (Hat tip to Sara Bareilles. I actually love that song.) Whatever they think – it bubbles out like soda from a shaken can. So when your fool provides all the inspiration you need to spill your verbal guts all over, you are behaving like a child. Don’t be ashamed to admit it. You should see me when I’m acting like a child. I actually start spinning around in circles flapping my arms and singing, “Round and round and round we go, where we stop nobody knows!” It’s crazy ridiculous. And crazy too. I’m FLIPPING CRAZY. Ever feel that way? That’s childish. An adult doesn’t do those things unless they are borderline insane. (That’s why you’re still reading this, isn’t it? Because you have a fool in your life, and you wonder if any day now you’ll need to be committed.) Here’s how Jan puts it:
Consider your relationship with your fool. Are there areas in your life where you are still holding out to get what you want from him or her? Are you continuing to invest energy into getting your fool to do what you want? Is there anything you have determined to accomplish in his or her life? Have you been working on your fool for the past twenty-five years? Are you determined that one of you will change or one of you will die? Are you holding on to a set of impossible expectations because that is what you want?
As you begin to mature in relating to your fool, you will learn to put those thoughts and strategies aside….It takes maturity to lay aside the childish schemes we use to control the important people in our lives. It takes real wisdom to become whole, functional people who are aware of the childish thoughts and behaviors that have buoyed us up in our struggle with our fools. It takes courage to admit that they do us no good and that we do them no good. Rather, they keep us stuck in a place where there is no air and no hope.
See? I knew my circle spin wasn’t doing any good. So what can you do, and how can you do it?
Don’t Return Evil for Evil
That just makes you a fool. This doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t:
She calls it “feeding someone with a long-handled spoon.” So you’re polite to them, the way we should be to every member of the human race, but you don’t get too close. Remember what happens when you hug a fan?
Live, Breathe, and Speak the Truth
Ephesians 4:25-27: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Your fool will throw lies at you, about you. Practice calmly speaking the truth and then disengaging. (Walk away.) Don’t speak the truth for their benefit (fools only believe what they want to believe); speak it for your benefit. Speak it because it is right to speak truth.
You may be thinking, Let go? If I let go, everything will fall apart. I can’t let go. What will happen if I do? That’s a great question. But it’s one you can’t answer, and neither can anyone else. The only thing you can know is that if you let go, you are making a positive step toward freeing yourself from the complications and chaos that bind you, and you’re releasing your fool to the natural consequences of his foolish behavior. When you see the source of your problems and are willing to admit that only God can change your fool, you will have stepped out of denial into reality, where only God can work. By letting go, you remove yourself from the fool’s realm of influence and you give up responsibility for your fool. It is a conscious effort on your part as well as an act of faith.
…If you will determine to remove your fool from the center of your attention by detaching and leaving him in God’s hands, then and only then will you see what God can do.
At the very end of her book, Jan answers ten difficult questions:
- Can a fool be a Christian?
- How can I honor my father and mother if they qualify as fools?
- What if the fool is my adult child who is the parent of my grandchildren?
- What if I see my teenager becoming a fool?
- What is my role in regard to sexual intimacy when my spouse is a fool?
- What do I do if my fool is an alcoholic or an addict?
- What about all the directives in Scripture regarding turning the other cheek and loving my neighbor?As a Christian am I not supposed to love my fool unconditionally and forgive him “seventy times seven?”
- If I go for counseling, what kind of counselor should I seek?
- I feel so guilty for the foolish things I have done in my relationship with my fool. I can’t forgive myself.
- Suppose my fool surprises me and says he is wrong and wants to work things out. What should I do?
Get Fooloproofing Your Life and find out!
What are some wise and foolish ways you’ve related to your fools?