“When we live in close relationship with fools, so often we take on their shame as if it were our own.”
I’ve spoken with a lot of folks lately who are suffering greatly as they try to figure out what it means to love someone caught in foolishness. Some are dealing with addictions (of all sorts). Some with long-standing and destructive generational patterns. Some are even trying to find better ways of relating to the foolish parts within themselves. It is a tricky reality because so often foolishness turns compassion on its head, manipulating well-intended actions that might be a healing force in a different context into something that enables destructive choices. What’s a friend to do?
A few years ago, I read a good book on this subject, Fool-proofing Your Life , by Jan Silvious, but seldom hear the dilemma of loving a fool addressed in helpful ways in Christian circles. As usual, I am most drawn to the story of a woman in scripture, Abigail, who actually lived well with a fool, her husband Nabal. Listening to her life and responses helps me find a path through the difficult landscape of loving a fool.
Though Abigail suffered with a fool, she was not a powerless victim
When we live in close relationship with fools, so often we take on their shame as if it were our own. We blend our identity with theirs and thus become a victim of their foolishness. We allow the shared shame to disconnect us from others. Abigail did not. The text names her as “intelligent and beautiful” and her husband Nabal as “surly and mean.” Her identity and reputation in the community were separate from his.
We also know Abigail did not live a life of powerlessness. The servant approached her with this dangerous situation likely because he knew she would act. She was not a paralyzed victim. Instead she was shrewd, decisive and creative. Though suffering with a fool, she stood tall and separate, acting with wisdom. She was a “well-differentiated” leader as described by my friend Trisha Taylor in a book she co-authored on family systems theory and leadership, The Leader’s Journey .
It is intriguing to me how specifically we are told about when Abigail informed Nabal and when she did not. When she set out to save Nabal from David’s wrath, time was short and she likely did not want to deal with her husband’s objections. Yet, Abigail was not seeking to rescue Nabal from knowledge of his own foolishness. When she got home, it was clear that she intended to tell him all about it. However, when she found him drunk, she changed her mind.
Abigail’s decision-making was a fluid process. Sometimes she did not tell her husband what was happening and sometimes she did. Though intent on saving the community from the devastating consequences of his foolish leadership, she was not trying to protect Nabal from recognizing his own stupidity. Her willingness to confront him also tells me that, on some level, Abigail had not lost hope in the possibility of his repentance. Sadly, Nabal’s foolishness was recalcitrant.
Abigail courageously and effectively confronted an angry king
What a fascinating contrast we are offered. David, like Nabal, was behaving foolishly. In seeking disproportionate vengeance, he was intent on self-initiated, mindless violence. David however, was a wise man and listened with gratitude as Abigail confronted him for his own good, not to mention the salvation of her family. Like the wise woman of Abel, Abigail simply described her perspective on the situation, with confidence and without apology. David’s heart was struck and he quickly changed his mind, humbled by and deeply grateful for her courage and wisdom.
Imagine the courage it took to go before an angry king, armed for battle and intent upon revenge. Yet, Abigail’s wise voice created an opportunity for the story to play out along a new and peaceable path. It opened a gate of different vision and new possibility that was life-giving to all who would listen.
Do you deal well with fools? What inspires you in Abigail’s story?