War, COVID-19, Abortion, Racism, Chronic Illness, Divorce, Abuse, Natural Disasters, Poverty, Disease, Loss of loved ones, Unemployment, it's all big stuff, and most of us have had to deal with more than one or two of these in the last three years.
As someone who is fighting chronic illness and financial strain right now, I have been pondering the big questions. I have been digging deep wells and becoming familiar with the new waters that come up from this digging.
So much of our culture is based on panic, the avoidance of pain, the desperate need to resolve tension, and ignoring the messy middle. We have been under a false sense of control since time began.
Let’s step back for just a moment... These issues I have listed are not new. They have been around since the beginning of time. Until our Lord comes back again, we are going to have a measure of pain, suffering, and sin in our world. That does not mean that we sit back and simply let it all happen without a prayerful response. But it does mean that we must acknowledge the presence of suffering and learn how to live with it, work with it, grow with it, respond to it, and not spend all our energy raging against it.
Most of us have learned that the way we should approach our own pain and the pain of others is to control and avoid it at all costs. We see an injustice and commit multiple injustices while expressing our opinion and making sure "we did our part". We see a chronic illness and try to pull the person up by the bootstraps by telling them our theory of how they got sick and then making a very ill-informed prescription. We see a person in poverty and cast judgment, sending them on their way with a list of "you should’s and "you could's." Why do we do this?
It is not because we are hateful. It is not because we do not care. In fact, it is often because we deeply care that we respond in unhealthy ways and prematurely. In short, we did not stop and ask God first what we should do or say. We entered another person’s battle ill-equipped, ill-armored, ill-informed, and perhaps without being called to do so. We have avoided the holy "I don’t know" and found ourselves too busy to simply sit with the sufferer. We want them to be better and fixed soon, so we ourselves do not have to ask those big, deep questions. We avoid grief because no one ever taught us how to deal with it ourselves.
How many times is a crisis met with compassionate listening that does not offer a solution?
Why is it so hard to say, "I don’t know, but I know the One who does, and I will pray on your behalf."
There are definitely times for practical solutions and help. But if we fail to listen purely without pretense and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance first before responding, all we have really offered that person is our inability to feel helpless. We have inserted our own mind, our own opinion, and, many times, even held the person accountable for following through with our advice. We give the person a solution that may or may not practically work and one that might spiritually hurt.
Yet this holy "I don’t know" can unlock compassion, mercy, and the ability for both parties to hear God’s heart in the middle of the mess. It admits we don’t have the answers, but we know the One who does. This holy "I don’t know" acknowledges Emmanuel - God with us - and leads us to the Wisdom that knows just how to respond.
Our call as followers of Christ is not to solve problems, it is to lead people to the problem solver. When we try to solve problems for others in our own strength, we deny the person access to the One who sees the whole thing. Our good intentions lay hands on them, forcing them into an answer to prayer that is actually a response to our own selves, not to God’s invitation.
I invite you to instead offer a holy "I don’t know," then take their hand, and go together with them to Emmanuel, letting Him take the lead.
We cannot control our own way out of a crisis, and we certainly cannot control another person's way out of pain. We cannot respond to our own compassion and empathy for another person with our own minds, knowledge, and experience. But we can say, "I wonder what the Lord is doing, and I will be here with you while He is doing it, no matter how long it takes."
It is time for us to stop accusing "I don’t know" of being weak, useless, and powerless.
"I don’t know" has all the power of Heaven behind it. "I don’t know" leads us and them to the Good Shepherd. "I don’t know" leads them to the One who works with mystery, works in every tension, knows all the pieces, and loves our friend more exceedingly and extravagantly than we ever could.
"I don’t know" is holy … and it leads to the miraculous.