“Don’t be afraid to be a fool for Jesus.” The diminutive Sri Lankan woman was in many ways the epitome of a wise woman—prophet, healer and prayer warrior. One who models her teachings in life and ministry. She shared the ways in which God called her to be the very same kind of fool she exhorted us to be. One who follows the Lord without concern for what others think or say. One who follows the Lord without concern for what culture dictates.
On the last morning of our retreat, we sat along the back deck of the house in silence, each of us slowly pushing the heavy, wooden rockers back and forth, eating our breakfast thoughtfully, gratefully. I gazed at the natural setting—the striking East Texas pines, the arms of the ancient oaks spreading their broad canopies over a serene lake crowded with water lilies and visited by birds of all kinds. The warm summer breeze blew gently across the water and wafted up the hill, making our morning meal a little more bearable.
As we quietly rocked that morning, we noticed a new sight. On most days the lake seemed fairly quiet—the birds followed familiar patterns, occasionally a fish or two jumped out of the water and back in, an occasional snake or toad appeared then disappeared into the rushes. Each day a handful of turtles crowded onto a partially submerged log resting near the shore. As some slid off, others pulled themselves on. As the day waned, small groupings of white birds quietly flew across the water, returning to their roosts on the eastern shore. In the evening as the stars emerged, the frog choir serenaded us and coyote pups chimed in at intervals. The last of the fireflies shared their faithful light.
But this morning, a visitor landed on an adjacent log, one that extended three or four feet above the water. This morning, one of the numerous lake fowl perched himself prominently on the very tip of that log. The world his stage, he craned his neck and held his head high, beak pointed toward the sky. He extended his broad wings, flapping them repeatedly, bobbing his tail up and down, up and down. All this commotion went on for some time. After a while, instead of pulling in his wings, he stretched them further, shaking, twisting and gyrating wing and tail in what we guessed must be some kind of carefully derived mating dance. Look at me, look at me, LOOK AT ME!
Eventually, because his ridiculous dance went on for so long, the bird managed to catch the attention of every person on the deck. His exaggerated motions, his odd contortions provided some comic relief during our last morning of silent contemplation. Several of us thumbed through a bird guide, searching for what kind of bird this must be.
Suddenly a question welled up inside me. Am I sometimes like that foolish bird, Lord? Seeking the attention, approval or admiration of others? A fool for others instead of fool for you?
The world encourages us to promote ourselves at every turn—to “toot our own horns” and “sing our own praises.” And today we have multiple venues for this. We play to the world, carefully crafting our public persona, our bios, texts, tweets, posts and pages of social media.
In contrast, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to become “foolish” in the world’s ways, because the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God. “Let no one fool themselves,” the Apostle Paul admonishes, “If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise” (I Corinthians 3:18).
Like our wise retreat guide, Paul too saw himself a “fool for Christ’s sake” (I Corinthians 4:10). One called to foolishness in the eyes of this world. We follow our Lord in the way that he lived. To be a fool for Jesus involves struggle, denial and humiliation. Foolishness to man but the wisdom of God.
To be a fool for Jesus is a difficult and sometimes lonely road. The narrow road. God calls us not as the fool, preening and posturing for the attentions and affections of others, but the one who is quietly, sacrificially serving others, in the way of our Lord. Lord, help us become such fools.