Since when is it not OK to say “I don’t know” ?

I’ve spent the morning lounging, reading about Mothers everywhere and reading about God. I just read an interesting article that got me thinking… why do we (oftentimes) feel the need to have or supply an answer in a particular situation? The article I was reading was on “how not to debate an atheist” (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/how-not-debate-atheist#HVLU2VJukgdmlKW4.99).

No… my article is not at all related to the one I just mentioned (except that I enjoyed reading it and it inspired the thoughts I’m about to share with you).

Pick the situation… Should I get married, should I ask for a raise, can I trust Jesus, is there a God, will the economy remain stable, should I choose chemotherapy, holistic medicine or surgery? These are all very tough questions and each need very careful consideration. In the end, we’re the only ones who can answer them for ourselves. We’re the only ones because we must bear the responsibility and consequences of our choices. They may have great outcomes or they may bring new challenges or trials. In the end, we must choose.

If you’re like me, you don’t try to answer these questions alone… you reach out to someone you trust. A well meaning friend, a pastor, a teacher, your parent, God. Even the most introverted and introspective people need to lean on someone else from time to time. We just can’t do it alone because we don’t have all the answers. It’s what happens though, when we lean on another for an answer, that this article is about.

While reading the article on how NOT to debate an atheist, it struck me… why do we feel we need to have an answer for any given question that is beyond our knowledge? What inspired this question in me was this excerpt from the article:

“”Science doesn’t have all the answers,” is a weak platform—science is designed to admit its ignorance and look for better data. Science may not know what happened before the Big Bang, but that doesn’t make God the default explanation. When we ascribe to God that which science can’t explain, we put faith on the run, fleeing from the ever-advancing front of scientific insight.”

When we don’t have an answer to a question… why do we feel the need to provide one? Isn’t it okay to say “I don’t know, but I’ll sit here with you”? I was going to write “until one comes to us”, but sometimes, we just don’t get the answer we need (or when we need it). Sometimes, there is no answer because we just can’t possibly know. I can’t know what you’re going through because I don’t live your life, so I can’t know all of the circumstances or experiences you’ve encountered that have brought you to where you are currently.

Sure… sometimes the answers appear to be clear, but are they really? It’s arrogant and presumptive to believe we can provide an answer in someone else’s life. There are times, that we need to help someone make a choice because they’re suffering or under great stress or uncertainty, but we must do that with complete and total humility, because the decision has the potential to change the course of their life.

I will admit that I’m someone who likes to have an answer. I used to feel the need to always have an answer, but I came to learn that I have very few answers to my own questions. If that’s true, then what makes me an authority on what someone else is going through?

Sometimes, we just need to sit with someone and bear out their circumstance with them in a loving and gentle way. Admitting that we don’t have an answer to a question is a good thing (though sometimes scary). When we admit we don’t know about something, two very important things happen. We receive an opportunity to learn and we receive an opportunity to challenge ourselves to find an answer and in so doing, we grow! In the process of that learning, we’re likely to learn even more than the answer that launched us into this unknown area.

Because of a good friend of mine, I discovered that I didn’t know much about Crohn’s disease, but I’ve learned through my friendship how to be his friend! I have no magic answer, no antidote, no diet. All I can do is to learn (with him) how this condition affects his life and how I can be there to support him. I wish I could answer why he has to suffer with unpredictable fatigue or why stress can dramatically and inexplicably change what seems like a “string of good days” into a crash. I don’t have those answers any more than I know what will happen tomorrow in my own life.

Running away from questions by trying to feign knowledge or even worse, by writing them off to a mystical source (God) is foolish and a missed opportunity. What’s even more important though is that sometimes, we just need to be a friend in silence and support through love and community. Just sitting with someone and talking with them may bring the answers to the questions being faced. Either way, the point here is to love the person through their trial without heaping your agenda on them too. In my case, spending time with God and asking Him these very same questions is paramount!

Sometimes, our answers are right in front of us, but we can’t see or hear them because of all of the distraction or noise. This is something I’ve become very aware of and sensitive to. Because I believe in God and that he has a plan for my life, I choose to listen to him. I can’t always do that well though, because the noise of my life can get in the way of my hearing his voice or seeing his direction. My good friends help me to face the truth of my situation, to challenge me to ask hard questions or to walk into the unknown; but a very wise and cherished friend asked me to consider spending a little time just “being” and to let the “noise” of my life subside until I can hear God’s voice. Wise advise indeed! (you know who you are and I love you for it).

Do we need to help ourselves and our friends by helping them answer tough questions… sure, but sometimes, that means asking even more questions that help to illuminate the truth in the situation. Just be willing to be patient and expect not to have the answers in your time frame. That part is not up to us and impatience won’t bring the answers any sooner… trust me! Sometimes, the best thing we can do to find our answers is to live our lives and not focus so directly on our problems.

Getting back to my point, ignorance is not a bad thing! It’s an opportunity to lean and to grow. Being willing to admit that we don’t know is wise! Wisdom is about not having an abundance of knowledge. It’s knowing how to apply that knowledge and admitting that we may need to learn even more. Wisdom is a combination knowledge, love, compassion, truth and humility.

The next time someone says to you… “I think I’m going to ??????????, what do you think?”, rather than blurting out an answer, why not try doing the verb in the question… why not try spending some time “thinking” with the person who is struggling, especially if you really don’t have an answer?  Friendship is about patience, love, respect and above all, honesty.

I don’t always practice this myself… but I’m learning to.

PS

You always encouraged me to learn and ask to questions.  You always encouraged me to engage!  You always encouraged me!  I love  and miss you Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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2 thoughts on “Since when is it not OK to say “I don’t know” ?”

  1. I think one of the reasons why I have friends across all faiths (and the lack thereof) is that my parents raised me to say “I don’t know” and not just throw out some verse that may or may not have really anything to do with the situation.

    Even between Christians, I’ve seen too many people try to soothe a tragedy like the loss of a child with “Everything happens for a reason”, which is only helpful to the person saying it.

    And as much as I’ve seen atheists belittle Christians, I’ve also seen Christians belittle atheists, like they’re horrible, immoral things that are willfully arguing just so they can be against God. Ridiculous, and not exactly the first step toward people seeing things your way.

    Too often we’re put into the false choice situation of the Bible being 100% right as a person or a group states it to be, or the Bible being 100% wrong as that version conflicts with science. There’s no room for discussion with restrictions like that, so people that aren’t completely convinced as to the inerrancy of the Bible as stated by the person/group will decide that it’s just plain wrong altogether, and that Christianity is ridiculous for following it.

    If I could ban the phrase “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” I would be a happy woman. I would also make the phrase “…and this is how I interpret it” as mandatory after the quoting of any Bible verse.

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