As a kid, I felt like teachers knew everything! Back in the days when I sported neon-colored socks, blue jeans rolled up, and bangs coated in hairspray to mimic an ocean tidal wave, I looked at my teachers as all-knowing. No matter the subject, if I asked a teacher a question, they would know the answer. If, for some reason, there was no response or a sense of frustration in their response, the fault rested on my shoulders. Never did I hear, “I don’t know.” How do I remember? Because I will never forget when I started to hear it.
Mary Geegh was a missionary that served in India from 1924-1962. She shares a story of one student during a geography class who asked his teacher where a city was located on a map. The teacher responded, “If I tell you, you won’t remember, so all of you may please look at your maps until you find the city.” The teacher hoped the student’s eyes would not be on her as she tried to hide the fact she did not know where that city was while trying to locate it. What I do love is the teacher’s humility and honesty that does follow.
The next school morning, during the staff’s routine practice of “Quiet Time” the teacher felt convicted. While “being still, and listening; to ask the questions: Am I absolutely honest? pure? unselfish? loving?” she ended up confessing to her students how she was dishonest. “I am sorry I wasn’t honest yesterday in the geography lesson. I did not know where that city was.” One of the children replied, “We knew it, teacher, because we saw you looking for it on your map.” (God Guides, pg. 6) Such honesty and vulnerability for a teacher to admit not being all-knowing. What a powerful moment for those students.
I cannot imagine the pressure teachers must have felt (and still feel) wanting to appear all-knowing in their classroom. Looking back on my life as a student, I recognized how rare it was to hear a teacher say those three words, “I don’t know.”As a graduate student though, I was shocked to hear those words for what I remember to be my first time. Surprisingly, those three words brought a sense of comfort when spoken by my professors as they were willing to recognize they were not all-knowing. Their pride was set aside, vulnerability was rolled out, and an invitation to wonder, learn, and grow was being paved in front of me in those classes.
Why focus on these three words at this time? Because right now there are many “I don’t know” questions we are all facing. When will we go to school again? What will school look like when we go back? When can we play sports again? Will camp happen this summer? When are we going to see grandpa and grandma? Will public transportation look different? When can I have friends and family over? When will this virus go away? How will this virus go away? Why is this happening? How will this impact my job? How will this impact the economy? I don’t know. And it’s O.K. not to know.
As Joshua and the Israelites were preparing for the unknown just prior to crossing the Jordan in Joshua chapter 4, the leaders of the camp informed the people in verse 3, “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” That last line struck me: since you have never been this way before. Friends, we have never been here. You and I don’t know what the unknown holds. We don’t know what life will look like in a week, a month, a year. We don’t know what the unknown of our future normal will become. Setting aside pride, letting go of the control (which we never really had in the first place), vulnerably moving ahead day by day, may we go onward to this place we have never been before.
Years ago, the teacher in India humbly confessed, “I don’t know.” It took humility and vulnerability. Let’s be humble and admit we don’t know what is to come, but to go onward to this place we have never been before. Let’s cling to what is good right now, hold fast to the things we once didn’t have time for, and take it with us into the unknown. Let’s cling to the Way, the Truth, the Life. Let’s cling to the “Quiet Times” of being still to listen to God’s voice and obediently act. Let’s cling to the promise that we are not, nor never will be, alone.