Be honest when you simply don’t know


My daughter learned a very important lesson when she was in first grade.

She came home from school one day with a particularly challenging homework assignment. I can’t remember exactly what the assignment was, but I will never forget the interaction I had with my daughter while she worked through it with her mother.

Mikayla very diligently focused on each portion of the activity. I could tell her little mind was working extremely hard. When confronted by a question to which she didn’t know the answer, she just proclaimed, “I don’t know” and moved on.

That was all good and fine until her mother tried to get her to go back and answer said questions. It was then that our 6-year-old looked up with confidence and informed us, “My teacher said that it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

At the moment, we felt compelled to explain to our young student that “I don’t know” must never be an excuse to not attempt to learn, but she had reminded us of an important lesson that we often forget. Sometimes, “I don’t know” is the only answer we have to offer.

In a world that prides itself on knowing everything, it is extremely difficult to humbly admit that we don’t have all of the answers. We live in the information age. Most of us carry around miniature super computers in our pockets that are capable of connecting us in fractions of a second to enough information to fill all of the libraries in the world.

This has led to subtle and dangerous deception: We believe that because we can know something, we should. Our unprecedented access to information has led many of us to believe we have the ability and responsibility to know it all.

The truth, however, is that none of us is capable of knowing it all. The greatest irony of my educational career is the more I learned, the more I realized there is a whole lot more that “I don’t know” than I do.

I absolutely believe in the value of being a lifelong learner. The Bible encourages us with these words in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

That text is talking specifically about understanding and applying the truth of Scripture, but I think the principle applies to all truth. We should be doing our best to correctly handle the information available to us. But part of correctly handling truth is being honest when we simply don’t know.

There’s absolutely value in conducting a little bit of “research” every now and again. We should do the best with what’s available to us. At the same time, we need to understand we will never be the expert in everything.

No matter how much we know, there will always be something new to learn. No matter how sure we are of the understanding we have at the moment, there is always a chance that it needs refining. We need to learn to be OK with “I don’t know” at times.

This is not an abdication of the responsibility we all have to continue to learn and grow. It is a mark of maturity to be able to humbly defer to others who do know and to allow them to take the lead at that moment for that issue.

While it may not be the most correct answer, sometimes “I don’t know” is the only answer we have to offer. May we learn to humbly admit our areas of ignorance when they surface. And when we do know, may we graciously and patiently attempt to help others along.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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