I’m not sure where the turning point was, but at some point during my teens I started to feel bad about saying “I don’t know.”
It may have been a mix of being a leader among my peers and having a deep, inescapable hunger for knowledge. It may have been the fact that so much of my life was wrapped around learning and testing in school where your worth is directly tied to “knowing,” or it may have been some deep repressed trauma in another dimension… I’m not really sure.
What I do know is that along the way I discovered the difficult inner life of a person who always had an answer. I remember arguing with people about small things so that I could develop my bigger argument at the same time. I remember completely fabricating facts to support my ideas.
But there was something that really began to eat away at the part of me behind the “knowing” mask. In order to have a defendable belief about something, I would say I believed things that I knew I did not believe. In order to appear that I “knew” something, I would become an intellectual (and sometimes practicing) hypocrite.
Then I walked into a training seminar being led a man named Michael Yacconelli at a youth ministry conference. It was there that I came face to face with the mess I had made. Mike was the head of the biggest deal in youth ministry. He was a published author. He was a pastor. He was a smart, successful, and influential person.
You can imagine my surprise when he started talking about his major questions about Christianity. He talked about life-shaking doubt, not believing that his prayers had any effect, and how he struggled with feeling worthy. The whole time I couldn’t take my eyes off him because it was as if he had been living inside my head for the past ten years.
Then, the bomb dropped. During the question and answer time, someone got up and asked him a question I remember thinking I already knew the answer to. After the questioner finished, Mike was silent. He just sat there for a bit… THINKING! I was just about ready to step up to the mic and answer it myself when he said a phrase that had been conspicuously absent from my vocabulary: I don’t know.
After he said that, he explained why he doubted all the popular stock answers (including mine) laying bare all their philosophical vulnerabilities. After he was done, he taught one of the most powerful lessons I have ever learned.
Mike said “And another thing, you youth leaders need to get way more comfortable with that phrase, ‘I don’t know’ because, let’s face it… most of the time, you don’t.” I didn’t. He was right. “When you don’t know something and act like you do, your kids learn that it’s not okay to say ‘I don’t know’ they learn one of the most tragic Christian values: to pretend you are someone you are not.”
I was undone. I was raw. Then, he landed hard. “When you say, ‘I don’t know’ you let them know that it is normal and ok to question. You let them know that it is ok to learn, and you let them know that the point of Christianity is not having all the right answers for the test.”
After that, I begin to work on letting go of my need to be the one with the perfect Theology. I let go of pretending and tried my best to let others see my faults so that the bubble of the perfect Christian life was burst and we could deal with our brokenness.
When I did I experienced the joy of freedom. The pressure for answers and perfection was gone and I could relish finding answers when I discovered another “I don’t know” area. I could share in the joy with the people to whom I could offer the answers I did have.
Somehow I thought all of the best answers were the ones that actually answered the questions, but I had discovered that life’s best answer is, “I Don’t Know.”