I Love When Writers Say, "I Don't Know"

Photo by Andrew Ridley via Unsplash

Today, I’m hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber speak as part of the WomanKind Conference, and I keep thinking about the last time I heard her speak. All of that talk was extraordinary for me, not least because she swore in church – LOVED that, but I was especially taken by a story she old about a time when she stopped a member of her congregation and asked them to pray for her because her heart was not right and she couldn’t find the way to right it herself.

I don’t remember the particulars of why she needed prayer, but I do remember that she asked, that she shared her need with the woman she approached, and that she again shared that need with us, a room full of people she didn’t know.  I swooned then at her bravery, at the way she knew her own brokenness.


There’s a whole lot of swagger and confidence going around these days, and not just because it’s election season here in the U.S.  We seem to be in a moment of assurance and the willingness to give advice – or share our opinions – on almost anything in the world from parenting to cooking to car-buying to, of course, writing.  We share our perspectives and experiences as if they are methods proven by year’s of research and data rather than by the scars and daisy-yellow triumphs of our own hearts.

I’m not sure when we went from sharing experiences to sharing guidelines, rules, and tips. Maybe it’s always been this way, and I’m simply slipping into the nostalgia of “back in the day” here in my 41st year.  But either way, I don’t like it.

What I do like is when people tell me how it’s been for then, what their stories have taught them, what their hearts have learned.  It’s a subtle difference between “Do this.” and “I did this.” but it’s a big one.  

I also love when people share what didn’t work, what they don’t understand, what mistakes they’ve made, what scars they’ve acquired.  Scars are like mementos from the journey of life.   (Now, I’m picturing some sort of Jake Kerouac/William Least Heat Moon bumper sticker collection, which is totally odd and wonderful.)

I love when writers say they don’t know. That’s honest and real, and it speaks to the cracked, wounded places in me.  When people are too self-assured, I don’t trust them, not because I don’t want to trust them. I do – trusting is so much easier than not – but it’s instinct.  Too much slick and I slide away.

When I heard Bolz-Weber say she needed prayer, I was able to acknowledge my own need for that, too, and to see how pride, or my fear about “being a burden” – good gracious, how many times do I repeat that phrase to myself every day? – often gets in my way of asking.  Just her openness, her broad-faced honesty and lack of shame about her needs, it freed me. . . and it frees me again to write about it now.

There’s simply something about someone saying they’re still learning, they need help, they thought they knew but they didn’t. . . an honesty that shimmers, a tunnel that doesn’t end at the edge of their words maybe.

I don’t have language to capture it just right except to say that this kind of willingness to admit our ignorance or our failure, the willingness to accept that we don’t have all the answers and can’t control all the outcomes, a courage to show our scars and make truth rise up like incense from them. . . .that’s beautiful to me, and when I see it, I lean close and say, “Tell me more.”

How you ever heard someone share a broken journey and found yourself cracked a bit to light yourself?