The ‘I Don’t Know’ Taboo

I recently returned from a 3-week trip back to Scotland to visit my family & friends.  It was a fantastic time to reconnect with people, make memories, and share with them all that God has worked in me and through me in my time in Germany so far.

But what struck me the most was my okay-ness with answering their questions with, “I don’t know.”

When I visited at Christmas, every enquiry into my new life in Germany was met with an uncomfortable internal struggle of seeking to somehow provide an ounce of know-how to an otherwise unknown faith-journey.  I sought to sometimes exaggerate a tenuous line of inquiry in an effort to sound like I knew what I was doing.  But the truth was – I didn’t know.

But why the torment? Why are we so afraid to state, “I don’t know”?

There seems to be this unspoken rule that we should have the answer to every question, to every life decision, to every new season in life.

These days, we have Google and Siri and Alexa and countless other humanoids to help answer those unanswerable questions.  Knowledge is now at our fingertips everywhere we go.  But is knowledge enough?

When King Solomon wrote the Proverbs, he wrote them with the intent;

“for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:2-7)

The fear of God and placing Him firmly as god and father of our lives should be our starting point; fear of Him is the beginning of knowledge.

It is only through Him we will receive the answers to all our unanswered questions – in His way and in His time.  Seeking Him in prayer and through His Word will provide the answers we need… eventually. And in the meantime? “I don’t know” is perfectly adequate.

When we’re uncomfortable with ‘I don’t know’, we often times face the temptation to guess or make-up an answer in an effort to appease ourselves and others (just like I did at Christmas). But who does that help? That just inflicts the weight of further pressure and expectation upon ourselves.  Instead, being comfortable with ‘I don’t know’ demonstrates a resilient trust in who God is and what He is capable of; it emanates a quiet confidence in His ways and in His timing.

So now that we’re OK with giving ‘I don’t know’ responses, how are we at receiving them? Do we (especially we Brits) frantically search around for some clever piece of advice to fill the awkward silence that immediately follows? Or do we pause and reflect for a moment, realising perhaps we can better assist our friend by praying and asking God to give them wisdom, or to make His next step clear to them. There are times we do have wisdom to share and wisdom to receive from others, but don’t make something up just to have a more comprehensive response to ‘I don’t know’.  That helps no-one.

As Christians, we need to learn to be OK with ‘I don’t know’, believing that God does know and that He’s capable of opening the right doors of opportunity at the right moment.

Of all the answers I sought to give at Christmas, I think at least 80% of them are now void and irrelevant in my life today.  I had a whole bunch of ideas and hopes of what might be to come, but God has led me on a very different path these last ten months.  Therefore, as I look ahead to the remainder of 2018 and beyond, I have even more reason to respond, “I don’t know”, but I have finally resolved to be entirely OK with that.

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