When we read about someone who strayed from God in his youth only to return at a later age, it is easy to cast it as a trope in the vein of the Prodigal Son, or speak of someone's "Road to Damascus" conversion. Such simple characterizations can risk missing the richness and nuance of the big picture and God's redemptive work. Andrew Palau's new book The Secret Life of a Fool is one such story—the son of famed evangelist Luis Palau, Andrew grew up wanting nothing to do with God. His road, though, wasn't one of outright rejection but apathy toward faith. Through the story of his youth and eventual journey home, God's work appears in the nooks and crannies, the small moments and the thrust, the secret life and the life together.
You wrote about how your parents "struck a balance between giving you guidelines for life and knowing they couldn't change your heart." What advice would you give to parents, particularly those trying to raise their children with faith, as they seek that balance in their own lives?
My parents showed evidence of confidence in the Lord. I knew that their hearts were broken over my activities. But they kept a nice tension on the rules of the house—knowing they couldn't make me a Christian or feel convicted, they couldn't approach it on spiritual terms. They had to say "Look, here's the law of the land: You can't drive drunk because you're going to kill somebody." And when I did drive drunk, I had my car taken away for many years. Though I was sort of a pitiful sight to them, they were joyful. What really impressed me and made a difference over time was that I didn't steal their joy. They weren't happy all the time, they were unhappy with the things I did, but their joy came from something else. And that is a powerful testimony.
In a formative letter your dad wrote you, he said, "the secret life is the secret," meaning that our inner life is a key to our relationship with God. What does that mean for Christians in an increasingly busy and public world?
The title of the book—The Secret Life of a Fool—is really a play of words on that, and I was living like a fool. But so is Dad, who is a fool for Christ. The secret life is not primarily a list of dos and don'ts or how to get into heaven and avoid hell, but a deeper life, at a spiritual level. A part of your life is now dead that could come alive, and you could experience real life, that secret inner life that the power of the Spirit has for you with great promises of eternity. Those messages were seeds planted in me.
You wrote on the idea of image management and how important it was that you closely controlled how other people saw you. How can Christians seek more authentic community?
It's funny how willing I was to be a fool for the world. Proverbs 12 says, "The way of a fool seems right to them." And then we come to Christ and we want to not be a fool for Christ. Part of the truth about the secret life of a fool is that it is no secret at all. We are fools one way or another; we are either fools for Christ or we are fools for ourselves and the world. There are so many passages in Scripture that say, "Tell of his mighty works, remember his works," and we tend to forget and shut up instead of remembering and telling.
Forget about what people think about you—so many of those things that we hide behind are just lies of the enemy to keep us from doing what we should be doing. Philemon 1:6 reminds us that we should be active in sharing our faith out of obedience, so that we'll have a full understanding of all the good things we have in Christ. We are made for this, we thrive in this, and we wonder what's going on when we don't do it and don't thrive.