You Can't Know What You Don't Know


“You can’t know what you don’t know.”

These words have been rattling around in my head lately. I don’t remember where I heard them, but I’ve been applying them to some regrets and observations I have.

Let me briefly explain and see if you might relate to my musings.

I’ve been recently observing ways my adult children are parenting their pre-teens and teens with fresh eyes. It’s probably because when you have as many grandchildren as I do, and 7 of them are now teens and pre-teens, there are challenges, sins, heartaches, lots of joy, and some parent-child struggles happening.

Sometimes I watch my kids and their spouses and think, “Whoa! You handled that with such wisdom and care. I wish I had known to do that when you were younger!”

But then I remember that I couldn’t know what I didn’t know. Aside from sin (which we parents are called to freely confess to our kids) every parent is broken. Weak. Sometimes clueless and always needy. We make mistakes (serious ones at times). And when we see our failures and sins we can acknowledge them, even years later.

But we’re not responsible for what we didn’t know.

Other times I watch my kids and think, “I’m not sure that’s the best way to handle this.” I see my younger self in them - eager to do what’s right yet limited and weary and sometimes fearfully motivated to clamp down rather than dig in to wayward hearts.

But they’re not responsible for what they don’t know.

I think today’s generation of young parents are unwisely looking to either themselves or the internet and social media for guidance, rather than seeking face-to-face wisdom from seasoned older people with a proven track record of raising wise and godly children. (By the way, grandparents, our grown kids decide who that wisdom should come from and they’re not obligated to seek it from us.) Yet the simple and biblical truth is they are in the same process we were at their age. They don’t know as much today as they will after years of walking with a patient and faithful God who grows us slowly.

At age 65, I am increasingly aware that I STILL can’t know what I don’t know. I’m still learning about Jesus. About parenting. About humility and generosity and compassion and living a confessional, repentant life. I know only what God reveals to me...and even then, I’m often slow to listen and even slower to apply what I hear.

Are there any regrets that haunt you? Shame that accuses you? Painful sorrows about past mistakes and failures that keep surfacing in your mind and heart? Fears that seize you when you see those you love floundering in a sea of brokenness or making really unwise choices?

There’s a remedy for it all! Christ came to forgive sin, in us and in those we love. Yet when sin isn’t the cause of confusion and struggle, perhaps it’s as simple as we just can’t know what we don’t know.

But God will keep teaching us.