She Can’t Know What She Doesn’t Know

Credit: nathanrussell on Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: nathanrussell on Flickr via Creative Commons

Sometimes the maintenance man at the apartment complex where I work and live becomes frustrated with me because of the things I don’t know. For example, I didn’t know air that is in some way related to a furnace or air conditioner needs to be filtered. Hence, when he asked me if my “air filter” needed changed, I stared blankly at him waiting for him to elaborate. He might as well have been asking me the elemental make-up of Mars, or the general weight of a dragon’s tail. When he gets this look from me (which probably happens daily), he will take a deep breath and repeat like a mantra: “She can’t know what she doesn’t know.” Meaning that if I don’t know something exists I certainly cannot answer questions about its status. Patiently, he slows down and explains the newfangled technology of the week and then I work on answering his questions. He’s one of my current teachers, whether he likes it or not (I think he really does like it).

When I was twelve years old, without getting into too much detail I didn’t know much about hygiene, dressing appropriately for my size and age, manners, or family dynamics. By attending a few sleepovers, going on a week-long school trip to Florida during which we stayed overnight in hotels, and a step-grandmother marrying into the family who noticed something was awry I began to learn about things like hair conditioner, body lotion, eating at a table, and matching my clothes. I am very grateful for the acceptance and nonjudgmental patience of friends and relatives through that time in my life. I learned to observe, that most human experiences are pretty common, and that I really like having soft hair.

I am still learning. Whether it’s changing air filters in my house, dealing with conflict in the workplace, or having grace after a break-up, I’m absorbing the healthy and loving  and normal behaviors I observe in the people around me. I’m still dependent on other people showing me the way, because I can’t know what I don’t know.

Jesus told His followers to go make disciples like He’d done with them. He was telling them to teach people how to live. He’d shown them realities and truths and power and love that they’d never known existed. All the religious leaders, teachers, scholars, and politicians in their world hadn’t been able to lead them to this water; He was teaching them how to drink. All the letters we’ve collected into our Christian New Testament were penned by people trying to do what Jesus told them to do: teach people how to live in all the freedom and love and community and relationship and forgiveness and grace they’d been given. This is the heart of what the Church is about. We are learning and teaching all the time, because people can’t know what they don’t know.

Today I spent time with a twelve-year-old girl talking to her about concepts like “processing” and “benefit of the doubt.” She’s not been shown or given the skills she needs to navigate her world and she’s making poor decisions that are the best she’s capable of under the circumstances. I want to empower her to choose better, to know more so that she has a greater chance of success in the world. When I speak with someone about faith, or try to walk with someone during a difficult time, or mentor a young person, all I want is to offer them the tools that have helped me survive and maybe even thrive a little.

So if there’s someone in your world who seems to just not get it, ask yourself if there’s something you assume they know that maybe they don’t. Is there a truth they’ve not stumbled upon yet? Are you in a position to hand them a tool they didn’t realize existed? If you want to communicate with someone, drawing pictures on a cave wall with lumps of charcoal will have to do if you have no written language. If someone teaches you an alphabet and hands you an ink pen it will change your world. Making disciples is about handing people instruments they don’t have and introducing them to truths they can’t access. It’s coming alongside to teach people to know what they don’t know. Being disciples means observing and learning and following and practicing and admitting there’s always more to know, even if we don’t know yet that we don’t know.

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