Admit you don’t know

Until you admit you don't know, you may never know.


I knew there would be three of them on Thursday morning. And at least three of us.

We regular volunteers were to tag up with a newbie volunteer and walk them through the halls, handing out free groceries together to each resident at the public housing complex.

The three new people wanted to experience it now for themselves, so they could later bring back a larger group in November and do it on their own.

Not being a risk-taker type, I always have a little fear in these situations. What if I’m paired with a strange one? A super quiet one? An overly loud one?

But as God would have it, he paired me up with the one I needed most.

That Thursday morning, it was with Patrick, the president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama. I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

With my daughter Jenna teaching Kindergarten this year at a Title 1 school, I’ve met her students and have fallen in love with them. But their life experiences are so different than my own.

I knew Patrick would know about her kids.

And he did.

He had been one himself.

He grew up in the projects in our town. Until 8th grade, he lived right across the street from where we were volunteering that very morning. He knew poverty. He knew about being black in a white world.

And I didn’t. But I wanted to.

So as we knocked doors together and distributed groceries, I asked him. I began with the obvious, “I’m a white woman in a middle-class world. I want to make a difference but I don’t know how. I’d love your advice.”

Oh, my. Patrick lit up. He was very gracious. He told me stories. He shared his own history. He encouraged me with things I could encourage Jenna with, and could use myself.

He explained how lack of exposure hurts these kids.

  • They can’t relate to “the sunset on the beach” when they’re questioned about it on a standardized test.
  • They miss their own awards day when they can’t pay the fine on a book they lost during the year.
  • They often don’t have someone asking them when they get home each afternoon, “Tell me about your day.”

So what do we do?

We plant seeds of learning, patiently, trusting they’ll make a difference.
We set high expectations for them, greater than what is set at home.
We give them hugs and love and consistency.

One child at a time.

Patrick’s mother did that for him. She expected him to make good grades. She eventually got him out of the projects. He went on to college and graduated.

When he was a senior in college and was asked, “What are you going to do next?” he knew his answer. “I have to go home. I have to go back and make a difference.”

And he has. For years. And he wants to continue making even more of a difference.

When we finished our time together passing out groceries, he had a question for me. What time did I usually volunteer during the week? Could he send over a few of the teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs to help? I told him I’d love that.

I rode home that afternoon in tears, thanking God for the way he puts people in our lives, people who know more than we do and who are willing to share their knowledge.

But unless and until we admit we don’t know, we really may never know.

All we have to do is ask.

* * *

Who have you asked recently about something you didn’t know? Or has someone asked you? Please share in the comments.

38 thoughts on “Admit you don’t know

  1. Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours

    Yes, yes, yes! There’s really no other way to learn but to admit we don’t know and ask—even when asking means we expose our own privilege, insecurities, ignorance. (Somehow I don’t think they were really hidden…) What a wonderful experience you had with Patrick. I am so proud of both of you! I keep reminding myself that if we’re really all neighbors (with different life experiences), should we be talking to each other—and learning from each other? Shouldn’t we be asking each other questions… and sharing life experiences? Shouldn’t we be celebrating birthdays and crying at the hospital? . . .

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Such great comments, Susan. “Exposing our own privilege” – ouch, but yes, so important. And “Somehow I don’t think they were really hidden” – we’re usually only fooling ourselves, yes? And also yes, I agree we should be talking to each other, learning from each other, living life together…to improve in these areas makes the world a better place for all of us.

  2. Linda Stoll

    I have doubted here and there about some of those God has linked me up with. But in most cases, there were lessons learned, grace given, great surprises in store …

    It’s better when He calls the shots! Always, Lisa!

  3. Bluecottonmemory

    My boys get frustrated with my after school questions – they don’t realize . . . . I tell my sons realizing you don’t know everything is the first step to becoming wise. Your posts stir something in me to find an additional way to reach out. Blessings to you in your mission field.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, Maryleigh. You make a valid point that sometimes our questions can be intrusive when the one we’re questioning doesn’t want to give answers. No easy solution to that. Thankfully Patrick was eager to answer mine. If he hadn’t been, I’m sure I would have shut down really fast myself, for better or worse.

  4. Laura

    and you have me in tears too, Lisa. What a beautiful moment. What a gorgeous, teachable heart you have, my friend. This is wisdom: Until you admit you don’t know, you may never know. Very, very wise.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate your encouragement, Laura. The older we get, the more we realize we don’t know. Too bad we can’t start off with that mindset–we could learn more quickly that way.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your encouragement to press in has really boosted me more than you know, Linda. I think of your words and experiences often. I’m getting to go with the Kindergarten class on a field trip this Thursday! I don’t know who is more excited about the outing: them or me. 🙂 I got Jenna to give me a list of names with faces so I can start matching them up now.

  5. melody

    How exciting Lisa! I love how this played out. I’ve been asking a lot of hospitality questions lately because I’m uncomfortable with it and need a lot of help yet I feel it’s what God is calling me to.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re wise, Melody. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid things we’re uncomfortable with, but you’re doing the opposite. Good for you. I’m sure others are pleased to hear your questions, and that many will be blessed by your hospitality!

  6. Joe Pote

    “But unless and until we admit we don’t know, we really may never know.”

    SO true!

    The areas where we are most confident of what we know are the areas we are the least teachable.

    Thank you, Lisa, for remaining teachable and for sharing your experiences.

  7. Betty Draper

    Lisa, love the phrase, ” until we admit we don’t know, we really may never know.” I had to let down my pride recently and ask how to do something and in the process I learn a lot about this person which helped me see I had misjudged him. That judgement had kept me from asking what I did not know for a long time. Great post…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That took a lot of humility, Betty, a trait that most of us need more of. Thanks for sharing your experience; it encourages me to go and do likewise. We often misjudge others simply because we don’t know their story, and unless we’re willing to learn it, we’ll miss out.

  8. Barbara H.

    I enjoyed so much reading about this encounter and Patrick’s story. Kudos to you for asking – I don’t think I would have even known how to phrase it – and to him for his gracious response. His comments on how lack of exposure hurts kids was sadly eye-opening.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sometimes our questions come out before we even have time to think about them. It probably was beneficial that it worked that way that day. Otherwise I can tend to overthink things. 🙂

  9. Sharon

    I was in tears over this story, Lisa. I was touched not only by the wonderful work that you do, and the inspiring testimony of Patrick – but also by the unmistakable way that God’s hand moves. He orchestrates the most *random* things, and always works them together for good.

    I’ve never particularly had any trouble with admitting that I don’t know something. Perhaps for me the greater challenge is wrestling with obedience when God tells me something I DO know.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, the most *random* things point to how awesome our God is!
      The more I know, the more I discover I don’t know. 🙂 And I’m with you—being obedient to the things that I DO know to do is often the hardest part.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Alecia. It’s funny that I had just been reading “A Curious Mind” about asking questions, so maybe God was using that to subtly push me out of my comfort zone too.

  10. Samantha Landrus

    Coming from a genuine and authentic place of curiousity always seals the deal in a conversation. Thank you for having the courage to ask AND receive. He gave some really tough answers. I’m certainly feeling challenged to ask better questions!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      He did give some tough answers. I wish it could have been easier, but the complicated things usually are hard things. 🙁 We all just have to start taking steps from wherever we are and pray for God to keep the seeds growing. Thanks for your encouragement, Samantha.

  11. Devi Duerrmeier

    It’s always encouraging to hear stories like this one, Lisa, thank you for sharing it. I grew up in a third world country as a missionary kid, and even then it was still hard for me to share those moments with people who were privileged differently (or not) from me. I still think there is very little required of us, just listen, listen, listen and ask, ask ask.. you’ve modeled that so well here.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m sure you’ve got some amazing stories from your youth! I’d love to sit over a cup of hot chocolate and listen to what you share. We could all learn more things by listening more. Thanks, Devi.

  12. Jen Ferguson

    Lisa, this had me in tears. What an incredible story that has so much impact no matter where we are living or volunteering.

    I’m wondering if you would be interested in writing something for the missions category – it is clear that you are committed to shining light where you live and helping those around you. I’d love to have a “missions at home” kind of post. What do you think?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Jen. Sure, I’d love to write something for “missions at home.” Just let me know.

      A good follow-up to this story was that this past Wednesday night a group of teens from the Boys & Girls Club did show up to help us volunteer! It was so wonderful to get to meet them and work together. I’m hoping they’ll return again on a regular basis.

  13. Alyssa J Howard

    This is such an encouraging story on so many levels. We serve an amazing God! He not only redeems us and gives us restoration, He also orchestrates and plans incredible things for our lives! He gives us what we need, when we need it. Thank you for sharing your story!

    Alyssa (visiting from #TellHisStory)

  14. Kelly Chripczuk

    What a great connection! I have a friend who says there are three kinds of things – things we know, things we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know. It’s such a gift to have a window into another world and your asking, openness, was a gift to him.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your friend is wise in her assessment of what we know and don’t know. I often wonder what it is that I *think* I know now, but one day I’ll find out I didn’t know at all. ha.

  15. Jody Collins

    Lisa I could see myself walking with you in that hallway with your new friend while you recalled this story. So powerful.
    What have I been learning?
    I started a new part-time job switching from substitute any-old-where to a school with all behaviourally and emotionally challenged kids. They are impoverished in many, many ways I’m only beginning to understand.
    I’ve been asking questions daily; It really helps build the team feeling and people love to share what they know.
    Here’s to being lights in our dark world.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love hearing this, Jody. I’m sure you are an AMAZING blessing to the staff, the students, and the families at your school. May God bless you with the wisdom and perseverance and patience you’ll need for this ministry. I know you are and will continue to make a difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *