Good News For Parents: God Knows Everything
A phrase recently crept into my lexicon and I find myself saying it with some amount of regularity: “I don’t know what I don’t know.” In truth, I lifted this expression from a dear and respected friend, and it has stuck on my tongue as if it were my own creation. I continue to ponder its layers of implication.
For starters, this is not the same declarative as “I don’t know.” I know I don’t know when I am going to die, if I will ever be a grandmother, or when COVID-19 will be conquered by a successful and accessible vaccine. I do not know who will be the next POTUS. In other words, I know I do not know what tomorrow will bring. Or the next hour, for that matter. This I know I don’t know.
What my friend actually said was, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” She was speaking about a time when one of her children, then a teenager, was in the throes of an eating disorder. While my friend was doing what we parents do, namely focusing on what she was observing as she supervised and lived life with her daughter, she didn’t know that she did not know about an impending crisis unfolding right before her eyes. You can imagine my friend’s sense of guilt when the crisis came crashing to the light of day, and she had to acknowledge that she had not seen this coming at all.
I have had my own experiences of being a parent of a teenager smacked upside the head by the revelation of a truth I did not know I did not know. One year, our oldest child came home from college at Christmas time freshly finished with the fall semester. He played along as we celebrated his unfolding college career, home for a break before returning to school. In early January, just days before his supposed departure, he finally confessed that he was not heading back to school. He had flunked out. The truth was, he had spent the better part of the past semester unable to go to his classes because of immobilizing anxiety and depression. He had summoned up just enough energy to sound well and “normal” when we talked to him on the phone. My husband and I did not know what we did not know.
As a parent, I see no 100% reliable way to prevent the possibility of being hit by these surprises. My friend’s daughter with the eating disorder was a very gifted student of ballet. She was landing the lead in every performance, which explained her strict diet and lithe body. She was doing well in school, she was pleasant at home, and there were no obvious warning signs.
Likewise for us when our son actually stopped going to class, we were separated from him by 450 miles, and we were trusting our given information at that time. On the phone he mentioned his classes and the professors he liked. He sounded upbeat and functioning. When the crisis of finally “knowing” hit our home, my husband and I felt like terrible, inept parents. We might as well have felt personally responsible for all the brokenness of the entire world.
The reality of our limits to know what we do not know moves me into, existentially speaking, a pretty dark place – like, a get in bed and pull the covers over my head kind of place. Who can bear the realization that we are so not in the knowing, that we don’t even know what we don’t know? And what about controlling anything in our lives? In terms of our role as a parent, how can we operate under the reality that, perhaps, we don’t know what we don’t know is going on in the life of our child?
If you are still reading despite the bummer paragraph above, let me remind us of some good news given to us by our infinite, divinely omniscient parent. In Isaiah 46:8–10, we are told:
Remember this and stand firm,
Recall it to mind, you transgressors,
Remember the former things of old;
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
Declaring the end from the beginning
And from ancient times things not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I
Will accomplish all my purposes,’
Though we are made in God’s image, unlike Him, we are creatures locked in time. There are limits to our understanding. We are unable to know what we do not know. Full stop. And yet, we have a creator and sustainer who reigns over us, outside of time and with no limitations. His knowledge is perfect, not learned or acquired or in any way deficient; He is in control of all things. He is so gracious that He has “declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” We have an omniscient God. And He has given us His Word.
Let us constantly teach our children while we remind ourselves: we do know the ending of this transitory life. We do know that God is going to accomplish all His purposes. He has told us the end of the story. God’s counsel will stand even when our parental attempts at counsel will fail because we don’t know what we don’t know. God knows.
At a Rooted Conference two years ago I heard Scott Sauls say, “The worst case scenario for the Christian believer is resurrection and redemption.” That promise, what I do know, pulls back the bed covers and gives me reason to crawl out towards the daylight. I don’t have to know what I do not know. It is enough that God knows.