The phrase can mean you’re not sure which choice is best or the one you want.
“I don’t know if I want that one or the other one.”
It can mean you have a preference but may want to let the person asking decide.
“I don’t know if that’s the best choice, but it’s up to you.”
It can also be a lazy answer because you don’t want to put forth the effort to think about the best decision.
“I don’t know why I did that.”
Saying “I don’t know” can mean you know the right choice, would rather make a different choice, and your will and your conscience are duking it out.
“I don’t know if I’ll tell her or not.”
It can also mean you really don’t know the answer.
“I don’t know why that happened.”
Saying “I don’t know” can send the message that you do not understand something or that you aren’t happy about something. It can be a way to avoid a conversation you don’t want to have because of laziness or discomfort.
Maybe you’re really not sure and just need time to think. Or, maybe you don’t want to tell the truth for some reason. Could be you know the response your real answer will get, so you don’t give it.
There are a lot of reasons to say “I don’t know” when asked something. And likely, we’re all guilty of all using each one at some point.
What Experience Shows
Here’s what my experience says about the use of “I don’t know.”
- Most of the time, you either really do know and don’t want to tell the truth, or you’re too lazy to make a responsible decision.
- If you truly don’t know, waiting is usually the best choice. Waiting is active though and involves seeking wisdom. Don’t move forward if you don’t have to without knowing until you’ve prayerfully sought the right path.
- Sometimes, you really don’t know, and that’s okay if it’s from an honest place and not a lazy or deceptive one. Again, just wait it out. Sometimes, not knowing means you’re not supposed to act.
- Simply waiting when you really don’t know is usually the best option. Many times, the situation will resolve itself or present the right choice if you just don’t force a decision and wait for it to present itself.
- Sometimes, you have to make a decision even when you don’t know what to do. Pray about it, then make the best decision you can. God doesn’t expect perfection. Plus, there’s often simply not a right or wrong decision.
A lot of scripture get at these truths, so we can know for sure what God desires when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t know.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
God wants us to trust in and lean on him. He wants to give us wisdom for our decisions. He wants us to know which paths to take. And he wants us to have and experience good things.
Trust. Ask. Receive.
Why Are YOU Saying it?
“I don’t know” often shows authenticity and can be a builder of trust and an encouragement. After all, no one likes it when someone acts like they know it all and refuses to admit that sometimes, the truly don’t know the answer.
The next time you find yourself going to “I don’t know” for your answers, ask yourself if that’s really true. Seek out your true intentions. Here are some common ones.
- Not brave enough to make a decision.
- Afraid to make the wrong decision.
- Don’t trust yourself to make the right decision.
- Afraid of not being accepted if you answer truthfully.
- Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
- Easier than saying “I’m afraid.”
- Don’t want others to disagree with you.
It’s okay to not know sometimes, but it’s not okay to always not know. It’s not okay if your go to answer is consistently “I don’t know” because you’re hiding the truth.
Instead of automatically answering “I don’t know,” get into the habit of asking God for wisdom. Ask him even when you don’t have a specific situation or question. Make this asking a daily habit, and then seek to know him because knowing him more is the only way truly have the wisdom you need.