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How to Relate to a Fool

by | Sep 24, 2014 | Articles, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 21 comments

Do fools exist? What is a fool? Are you a fool? Do you know a fool? How do you relate to a fool once you’ve identified one?

And won’t you go to hell if you label someone a fool?

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22

All this talk of fools seems sort of dangerous when you read that verse. Until you read the dozens upon dozens of other verses in the Bible about them, and suddenly you realize that it is far more dangerous not to talk about them. God warns us not to be a companion of fools. How can we obey God in this area if it is sinful to identify a fool? If we insist on being naive and, dare I say it, foolish, we will very likely mishandle the fools we come across, and that will lead to all sorts and kinds of trouble in our lives. Trouble God wants us to avoid, if possible.

Have you ever dealt with a difficult person with whom you could make zero headway? No matter what the conflict between you, the other person was right every time, and you were a trouble maker who insisted on making things up in your head that simply were not true?

One night several years ago I started reading through Proverbs for what seemed like the millionth time, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. God was talking about real people in Proverbs. And I could identify them by their actions. As I combed through all the verses that talked about fools, I realized they were describing a person I had been dealing with for a very long time.

I felt terribly guilty just thinking those thoughts. Who was I to judge whether or not another person was a fool? That’s serious business. I didn’t want to believe it might be true. I mean, a fool is a pretty hopeless thing to be, and I cared about this person and wanted what was best for them. I wanted to make our relationship work, but this was the first time I had ever faced the fact that there was a real possibility my relationship with them could never be close—as long as the person insisted on staying in their “foolish” place.

Fast forward a few years, and a friend gives me a book: Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. This is how God sometimes reaches out and touches our lives, and I praise Him for it. He used that book to fill me with hope, because He used that book to equip me with Truth.

You see, I had believed a sackful of lies for so long. I had allowed another human being to control everything I thought about myself. If they said I was a ditzhead or “goofy” for feeling the way I did or for seeing things from a different perspective than they did- I believed them. When I tried to communicate with them, they shut me down by saying things that caused me to feel stupid and bad. If I asked them to stop doing something that was hurtful, they told me I was over-sensitive, over-reacting, and mean. If I disagreed with them, I was ridiculous and silly.

The only way to experience peace with this person was to always agree with them, never give them feedback, never question anything they did, and apologize and ask for forgiveness when I slipped up. I had to repent of my own sin (which is right and good) as well as for being the cause of their sin. (Not so right and good, but they always graciously bestowed forgiveness upon me albeit tucking a few of the worst things away to bring up again when it worked to their advantage to do so. I’ve always been a sucker for a good guilt trip.)

When I tried to talk to them about something I felt needed to change, they became angry and accused me of “always stirring up trouble.” I could not get close to this person, yet I had always believed it was my responsibility as a good Christian to do so. I felt caught and confused with no way through the maze.

What a relief to discover the truth! The truth of the matter is that I was being played over and over, when God had made it crystal clear in His Word how to handle folks like this. But how can one know what to do if one diagnoses the problem all wrong? And because of my belief that it would be wrong to label anyone a fool—after all, we are all sinners, right?—I was not able to see the clear, Biblical answers to my dilemma.

Let me just clear up that little lie right off the bat. The lie is, “We are all sinners, therefore we have no business evaluating another person’s behaviors.” It plays out even in the most base situations. TRIGGER WARNING “Well, that man sexually abused that girl, but we’re all sinners, so who am I to judge? She’s a sinner too.”

The TRUTH is that while we are all sinners, not everyone acknowledges their sin, repents of it, and works to change it. In a relationship there are always two sinners, but if only one person is willing to admit their sin and work on it, the relationship is not going to function in a healthy way. In fact, Jan makes the point that it isn’t even a real relationship. It’s simply an arrangement. For a real relationship to develop and grow, it takes two people willing to own their own stuff and work together to meet one another’s needs for acceptance, love, and respect. Will they fail? Absolutely. But conflict and failure are not insurmountable issues as long as there is humility and repentance.

When a fool is involved, there is no humility or repentance. Why? Because, as Jan Silvious drills into your head when you read her book, “A fool is always right.” Always. And if the fool is right, what are you? Wrong. Always. Where does she get this hogwash?

Well, it comes from just thinking logically and rationally. Common sense, you know? As in, nobody can be right 100% of the time, and likewise, nobody can be wrong 100% of the time either. If you believe otherwise, your sanity comes into question. (The word “fool” comes to mind…) But she also gets it from an even more reliable source than human common sense.

She gets it from the Bible.

Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. 

So can we know what a fool is, for sure? Does God want us to figure this out? Of course He does. There are different ways of dealing with different kinds of people. We don’t call out a loud greeting to someone in the morning. We don’t laugh around a sad person. We treat the elderly with respect. And we don’t throw pearls to swine. So let’s look at what Proverbs says about fools, and you can think about the difficult people in your own life and decide whether or not you are dealing with a fool, and what strategies you might employ if you are.

And by the way, before we start, one thing Jan is quick to point out is that everyone has foolish behaviors here and there. But not everyone is a Biblical fool. So again, the way to tell a fool from someone who behaves foolishly now and then is that the fool is never wrong—ever. A fool will never say, “Oh wow. I behaved like a fool there. I’m so sorry. That must have really hurt you. Can you forgive me? How can I make that up to you?”

So if you wonder, “Am I a fool?” You’re probably not. A fool would never wonder that. A fool would never consider the possibility they could be a fool. If they did, they would be on the road to recovery from fooldom. The sad thing is, while recognition, recovery, and change are possible for a fool, they are rare. Anything is possible with God though!

Let’s get started with a list of real “fool” characteristics from Proverbs today, but we’ll continue with our list next time. For now, here are a couple to whet your whistle, pique your interest, and tickle your tummy: (OK, not the tickle one.)

1. A fool will not accept feedback. (See verse above.)

They will make excuses. They will blame someone else. They will deny that they did anything. They will withhold information. They will accuse. They will change the subject. But they will not “listen to counsel.” A wise man does that. The fool is always right, and that means that you are always wrong. Remember?

2. A fool puts himself in the place of God.

A fool doesn’t need God because they trust in their own heart. Their heart knows what is best. The world revolves around them and what they believe to be right and true. If you bring a different perspective to the table, or even a different memory of how an event “went down,” you are wrong. Their interpretation is always the real one, of course.

Proverbs 28:26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.

Fools are often very charming and warm when they want to be. They can be generous and kind. They want you to be in their world. But once you are there, they begin to grow irritable until they either explode or draw you into a communication trap. You are left trying to figure out what you did that caused the chaos, and you try to fix it for next time. The fool gets charming again, and the whole cycle starts over. Nothing is really fixed.

I’m going to share a few more characteristics of fools in the next post. In the meantime, I encourage you to get a copy of Foolproofing Your Life. Jan has some other great books and resources on her own website HERE.

21 Comments

  1. Barry

    A FOOL IS LIKE A BROKEN-RECORD….THEY CONTINUE ON THE PATH TO WHERE BEGAN!

    Reply
  2. Jay

    I have read about narcissism and there are many similar characteristics. Maybe narcissism is simply a secular term for a biblical concept? Anyway, it may be helpful, when learning about fools, to also learn about narcissistic personality disorder as well.

    Reply
  3. Michelle @Arrows and Olives

    Man I needed this. I’m dealing with a fool. And you’re right on. It’s NEVER their fault. They will never apologize. They will never accept responsibility for their actions. But, they will absolutely demand that YOU do so. Such a challenge. May God give us grace when we cannot “excommunicate” them from our lives. (I think I need this book!)

    Reply
  4. Stephanie Paz

    This is so good. Unfortunately, this describes my MIL. My husband and I struggled with these issues with her for the first 3 years of marriage. I could tell there was something wrong because I was new to the family but wasn’t sure how to identify it. He didn’t see it at all because he lived with it his whole life. Our marriage suffered because of her; it seemed she just wanted to make things harder on us every time something good happened. And of course we were both too scared to ask her to butt-out. Until, one year, after she viciously, verbally abused both me and my husband on multiple occasions it was easy for me to decide “no more!” Not quite so easy for my husband. We both struggled (& sometimes still do) with whether or not cutting her out of our lives is right. It seems so wrong because she is his mom, but the joy and peace that has been restored in our marriage is undeniable. We couldn’t imagine going back. We tried suggesting setting boundaries and taking baby steps to work on trust, but she just responded with anger that we weren’t letting her back in the way she wanted. My question is, can you realistically have a relationship with this kind of person? As you mentioned, the author said in her book, it isn’t even a real relationship, and they won’t (or don’t) change so is there a way to have them around without compromising? Everytime I begin to question our decision I only seem to come across things that confirm it, but it is hard to not feel guilty.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Stephanie, you also might benefit from Leslie Vernick’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. (Not the marriage one.) Between those two books and maybe Townsend’s Boundaries book, you will be equipped to make healthy choices you can stick with without feeling guilty anymore.

      The reality is, your MIL is making choices too. Sadly, those choices are keeping her from enjoying good relationships with your family. She has the option to make better choices for herself, but you can’t force her to do that. The onus is on her to become more skilled in her relationships. That means being humble, getting input, and making changes. Until she is ready to do that, you can be around her at times (I would limit that for your own sanity), but you can’t be close to her. Jan says, “Feed your fool with a long handled spoon.” Meaning – be kind and honoring, but from a distance both emotionally and even physically.

      Leslie talks a lot about building CORE strength. It’s an acronym for the following:

      C – committed to truth and reality
      O – open to feedback, growth, and instruction
      R – responsible for myself and respectful of others without dishonoring myself
      E – empathetic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me

      It sounds like you and your husband are well on your way to getting stronger in this way. It’s a lifelong journey though. Be patient with yourselves as you figure this thing out.

      Reply
    • Molly

      Stephanie, I tried boundaries as well. I tried everything in my power before walking away. Nothing worked, because nothing was respected. My husband and I have seen the fruit in our marriage too! I liken it to a person with a gangrenous limb. I tried washing, tending, medicating, treating in every way but the rest of my body was compensating and suffering. It came to a point where I just had to amputate. It’s incredibly painful, so I revisit the decision and wonder…but I know that sometimes it’s the only way to really heal. There will be a scar, but better a scar than a forever festering wound. The hard part is explaining it to my children. I think I’ll grab these books Natalie’s been recommending.

      Reply
      • Sara

        Great analogy Molly!!! So true. Much peace in my life and marriage once I “excommunicated” the fool in my life.

        Reply
  5. Jennifer Reffner

    I just read thru Jan’s book yesterday and a week ago. I have been dealing with my older sister all my life who is jealous of me and when we were younger she would make me feel insecure by insulting me. She still does this but mostly behind my back. She claims reality is what she interprets it to be, literally! She said if a child is in a storm and imagines a tornado and is traumatized, then that is the reality for the child even if there really was no danger. For a child, that’s ok, but a grown up needs to adjust according to what reality really is and cope with past hurts in a mature way without forever blaming others. I have tried for my whole life (Im 41) to have a meaningful sisterly relationship with her but she never wanted to and always made (makes) me feel like something is wrong with me. For years I have felt sorry for her and tried to show her a loving Christian witness and take the insults and shaft. Recently I laid my grievances on the table thru a polite letter which explained how I didn’t like how I was being treated and what I expected (common courtesy, basically). My sister never responded or said she read it. Because of Jan’s advice, I am able to cut her loose and let her face the consequences of her own actions: she is creating a living hell for herself by being manipulative and self serving, and refusing to forgive others. She will likely find herself alone and humbled, and I hope she finds God there (as I did once upon a time).

    Reply
    • Sara

      Jennifer –
      I can relate to what you are saying. My fool is an in law who says the same things. Through the years when attempting to have “normal” (I have since learned there are none of those with a fool) conversations with her as we discussed issues (always mine), she repeatedly would say “Reality is what I think and feel because that is all I can go on.” She will say “When you said or did this you REALLY meant that because that is how I took it”. No matter that it wasn’t remotely in the ballpark for what I did or meant. You cannot reason with a fool.

      I think it is extra difficult when your fool is a family member because we so feel it should be different. Families should be able to get along and love and support each other. God designed it that way! When they don’t, there is an extra grieving that takes place.

      I hope your journey goes well – you will find so much more peace by cutting her free.

      Reply
    • Teresa

      Jennifer, I’ve had to do that with my older sister! She has bullied me my entire life…and I took it, because I thought it was the “Christian” thing to do, until 6 yrs ago, when my H cheated on me..again!
      As I started reading and researching about healing from his affair and emotional abuse, I started seeing how destructive my relationship was with my sister…and how Christ does NOT expect me to be anyone’s verbal punching bag…not even a member of my own family!
      I put boundaries in place, and have had very little to do with her in the last 5 yrs…and it has been so peaceful and healing for me.
      Unfortunately, last June a family member told her about my abusive marriage and she contacted me via email…wanting to ” help” me and my H heal our marriage, and offering us counseling with her and her H…who is also a bully and verbal abuser! I politely wrote her back and let her know I appreciate her concern, but that I already have a counselor and a support group.
      She then wrote me back, accusing me of wanting divorce, and reminding me that God HATES divorce, and if I don’t work with her then it will be MY fault that my sons will never have Thanskgiving or Christmas as a family again, etc…I didn’t respond to her email.
      A month later, while I was away on a missions trip, she called my Pastor, who she has never met and proceeded to tell him what an awful, abusive person I am and that my H is a good guy and would NEVER do the things I’m accusing him of doing, etc….there’s more, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.
      Her behavior proved that I am right for no longer have a relationship with her.

      Reply
  6. Amanda

    After your posts, I am SO interested in this book and I’m going to have to chase it down. I’ve had a habit for several years of trying to read the Proverb chapter that goes with the day’s date…I don’t always get it done, but even with lapses I get through the whole book at least 3-4 times a year. And I NEVER have a day go by without reading something that I swear “wasn’t in there the last time I read it!” It is especially valuable as I work on training my little children. I’m interested to read this book especially in that light–“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” and all that. (And the counterbalance to that verse I found a few months ago? “The rod of anger will fail.” Yowza.)

    Reply
  7. Molly

    The truth will set you free! I stepped away from a couple of fools in my life. I lived in a life-long emotional box like you described above, under my mother and older sister. It’s very freeing to make that decision, but they condemned me as unloving, unforgiving, wanting perfection, etc. Mainly I was tired of the constant frustration (is there anything as frustrating as ALWAYS being wrong??) and oh the hypocrisy!! It feels good to shed the guilt of constantly trying to maintain one-way relationships. I no longer try to reason with them, of course it’s my fault! 😀 It is bittersweet though and I pray for eyes to be opened so reconciliation can take place. But it’s not my job to open them!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Hypocrisy—yes. And bittersweet is the perfect word to describe the “stepping away” process. Sad (grieving the loss of those important relationships) – and yet a peace and freedom that is sweet too. Thank you for sharing this.

      Reply
  8. Sarah

    Oh dear! I have too often played the fool and, perhaps even more often, been played by a fool. Sigh. I just like to get along with everyone. I should read the book and dig into Proverbs more, too. When I read the description I am deeply concerned for a dear friend in a difficult marriage. I have sought to give her biblical counsel, but as I read this I am convinced that she is married to a true fool (the publicly nice kind, who fools the church, then abuses his family). He is never wrong. Even his pornography, verbal abuse, etc. are her fault for not being the perfect wife he wants. I really need to search out how to guide her in the Truth. What do you say to the struggling wife of a fool? I would appreciate any insight you have here.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Check out my “About” page here: http://visionarywomanhood.com/about/ as I have several links and books she will find helpful. The first book I’d recommend for her to read (besides this one) is The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. It’s excellent. Also, Leslie and Chris Moles (pastor) just did a great webinar she could watch. If she is just waking up to the abuse, she will be confused and even in partial denial. It takes a long time to really wake up and accept reality. There is a very real, very lengthy grieving process. And that’s just the beginning. But ultimately there is freedom on the other side, because Truth always sets us free. Here’s a link to the webinar: http://youtu.be/1nY-rQQsgvs The webinar is also very helpful for pastors/lay counselors and anyone else who wants to help someone in this kind of situation.

      One in four Christian marriages have a destructive spouse. And that’s just the ones that come forward and say something. Many Christian women hide it because they are afraid nobody will understand or believe them. She’s not alone.

      Reply
  9. Joanne

    I have not read the book, but it sounds like it would be an important one to read if for no other reason than for self-examination. Reading Proverbs certainly does enlighten! There are many, MANY times I have acted foolishly, and there are periods of time when I was a fool.

    Why does Scripture tell us how to identify a fool and then tell us we are liable for the hell of fire if we call/label someone a fool? Primarily because God’s Word is for us to see OUR OWN sinfulness before Him. But also so that we will be very slow to accuse others. Also, it serves as a warning to be cautious about entering into fellowship with fools.

    Does a person have to be aggressive or harsh to be a fool in their relationship to others?

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      The verse at the top of this post (hell fire one) is saying that it is wrong to spew out a venomous “You fool!” to someone who is bugging us. It’s verbal abuse. However, in other parts of Scripture God shows us the wisdom of recognizing a real fool (as characterized by consistent, unrepentant, foolish behaviors) so that we can avoid them, when possible, or learn how to handle them properly. We’ll talk about that in future posts.

      So do you see the difference? It’s wrong to vent on others, but it is right to factually identify them and deal with them in appropriate ways.

      In answer to your last question (a very good one!) – NO. A fool can actually come across very passive and even “nice.” They can quietly and “nicely” twist things or manipulate others to control them. Often real fools appear to be the nicest folks in the church. These kinds of fools “fool” people. They even fool themselves. But only for a season. God promises that sin boomerangs, and eventually we reap what we sow. As Shakespeare says, “The truth will out.” If not in this life, then in the one to come.

      Reply
      • Joanne

        That’s what I thought (your answer to my last question) but wanted to check with someone who has looked deeper into these things. The consistent “you only think that because of your warped way of viewing me and you’ve been that way all your life” messages from a passive-aggressive person has left me questioning my very sanity sometimes. And as one of your other commenters said, it is freeing to cut off those messages they send but it is painful to cut off relationships that should be the most loving. Very sad.

        Reply
    • Sara

      Joanne –
      I have read this book multiple times and listened to Jan’s teaching on the topic many times as well. If you are even thinking you are a fool – you are NOT. 🙂 Yes, we all sin. But there is a difference between sinning and repententing, and habitual sin that we NEVER see for what it is.

      Reply
      • Joanne

        Sara, you are correct. When I have foolish behavior, I am shown it clearly soon after the behavior. During my seasons of being a fool I didn’t even see it because my heart was not pliable and my mind was not fixed on Christ. I am so thankful that I have been allowed to see in hindsight and have been able to repent.

        Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Help! Conversations with a Fool Go Nowhere! | Visionary Womanhood - […] on the amazingly eye-opening book Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. The first two posts HERE and HERE give…
  2. How Do You Know if Someone You Care About is a Fool? | Visionary Womanhood - […] my last post, Is the Word “Fool” a Swear Word?” I began a review of Jan Silvious’s book, Foolproofing…

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