Have you ever had that moment? A student is starting at you earnestly in the search for truth. They have let down their guard. They have finally asked. A sinking feeling wells into your chest. You have no idea. It might be a question asked where the answer eludes us. It might be a tough situation where there are no words. It might be a life situation where there is no “formula.” However, it goes our palms sweat for we are petrified to mutter these three simple words,
“I Don’t Know.”
As pastors or even parents we feel compelled to be able to give all of the answers all of the time. The problem is that simply isn’t feasible. We aren’t perfect and so there are times when we “don’t know.” Guess what? That’s OK. As a matter of fact it is like admitting that we aren’t perfect. Believe it or not this is actually comforting to the youth in our lives. Instead of appearing weak, we now appear strong. They are comforted in the knowledge that they aren’t living in a constant state of confusion, while we walk around all knowing. Yet, I think the reason we avoid these words is because they make us uncomfortable. Honestly it is easier to make something up on the spot than struggle to find an answer. HOWEVER, when we wrestle through to the other side with a student, they start to see that we are indeed trustworthy. It is a clear way we point them towards Christ.
So how do we deal with, “I don’t know?”
1. I’ll find out for you.
When a student asks you a tough question that you CAN find the answer to, follow through. These are usually those Biblical Questions like, “How old was Abraham when he died?”
If you have the time and resources, I would suggest looking it up together. Students are not looking for you to be “all knowing” as much as they are looking for you to be authentic and accountable. Telling them you have no idea, but you can find the answer… then following through to find it, builds extreme credibility. I remember one time I had a student ask me why the tribe of Judah was the kingly tribe. I had some vague answers in the back of my mind. I could have placated them with something quick and we would be done. However, I said, “You know I am not really sure. I have an idea, but let me do some research and I’ll get back to you.” That week I went home and found this passage in Genesis when Jacob blesses his sons and it explained it all. The next week I came back with the answer. Not only that we used it as a great discussion about sin and redemption. This approach works with any question that has a clear/ cut answer.
2. What do you think?
My 7th grade daughter likes to sit next to me during worship on Sunday mornings. During the whole service she will lean over frequently and say, “What did the pastor mean when he said that?” Sometimes she doesn’t know. Other times she wasn’t paying attention. Then there are the times when she just wants me to tell her the answer when she could figure it out on her own. There are times when rather than giving her a straight answer I will say, “What do you think it means?” There are concepts that do not have clear cut answers. In this situation, that ” I don’t know” feeling rises up in us adults because the answer is long and complicated. Before we embark on answering, let’s make sure that the student really needs an answer. Instead, they might just need some guidance in thinking through the answer on their own. This may take a little longer, however, we are teaching them to seek the Lord and his guidance.
3. There are no words.
When a friend dies, a parent is an addict, or tragedy occurs students come looking to us to answer, “WHY?” Our emotions rise up as well. We are grieved or angry or troubled and we are pondering the same question. There are no clear cut answers at all in this case. That is alright. We are allowed to say that we don’t get it either. We are allowed to say there are no words that will make this situation better. All we can do in these moments is love the student and point them back to the WHO of Christ. Students may disagree with you, “How could a loving God allow this?” That’s alright, it doesn’t mean he stopped being faithful. You may need to tell a student you will believe for them right now. You may need to simply hold them and cry. You may need to say nothing at all and just listen. It’s alright to not know. We aren’t expected to. There are no right answers, just hands that show them the Lord hasn’t forgotten them.
Truth is a powerful tool. In a day and age where opinion reigns it can feel like a word that shifts with the tide. However, we must remember that the Lord doesn’t change. The truth is not contingent on us, but on him. Psalm 25:5 tells us, “Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” The reason why those three words are so very powerful is this verse. We must remind our youth their hope is not in us. We will fail them. We will give wrong answers sometimes. Yet, when their hope is in the person who is truth, there is salvation. Isn’t it most important for our kids to learn to rely on him and not on us anyway?