You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Brian Dutcher currently is the head basketball coach at San Diego State University. Before the cancellation of the remainder of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his team (the Aztecs) were having a tremendous year.  They were 30-2 and perhaps in line for a #1 seed in one of the four regions of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Dutcher was named “Coach of the Year” by USA Today.

What is unusual is that Dutcher did not become a head coach until he was 57 years of age.  See, he was an assistant to Steve Fisher, former Michigan coach between 1989-1997.  After Fisher was fired at Michigan in 1999, he took the San Diego job and brought Dutcher on board with him again, as his assistant head coach in waiting.  All told, Dutcher was Fisher’s assistant for 28 years until he got the head job when Fisher retired in 2017.  Dutcher, now 60, has become a premier head coach in his own right.

How many of us could wait that long for our dream job which was just out of reach for 28 years?  But Dutcher was patient.  And one sentence in the interview caught my attention.  Dutcher said, “Life is about what you learn after you think you know everything.” It was Dutcher’s way of saying, “If you are smart, you never stop learning, growing, and maturing.” How many of us can make that statement with any credibility?

I remember the very first time I thought I knew everything I needed to know.  I was 17 years old and in my senior year in high school.  I remember being rocked and offended by a comment someone had made to me in an argument we were having, to the end that I was just not mature enough to be able to see the nub of what the discussion was.  Driving home, I was fuming over such an attack on my “maturity”.  I can take you to the very spot on 15 mile road on which I was driving where I said  out loud to myself in my anger, “How could I be any more mature than I am right now?”  No kidding.  I literally said that and was convinced of it at that moment.

That was the first time I can remember thinking I had come to a complete understanding of what I needed to know.  The second time was when I graduated college, went into the ministry, and as a 26 year old “senior pastor”, believed that all my positions, perspectives, and understandings were now complete and I would spend the rest of my ministry simply making application of what I already knew to be “the right positions”.  Now, I did not say that out loud at the time.  I did not even really “think” it.  But that was the practical upshot of my training. My positions, both theologically and practically were “etched in cement”.  To change one’s positions, I was taught…and sadly swallowed at the time, was to compromise truth and admit to error.

It was not until a few years into the ministry that I began to realize I did not know what I did not know.  The list of things of which I was not even aware when I first graced the ministry, was growing longer almost by the day.  As I began to study, I realized I was absent entire categories of theology, nuance, and position.  Many times, as I read a new author, I was like a calf staring at a new gate; totally befuddled that I had never encountered this before. It was then that I began to realize, “You don’t know what you you don’t know.”

That has now been a mantra of mine for the past 35 or so years.  I’ve come to realize that you could write volumes about what I did not know about theology and ministry when I began.  But it is even more true that more volumes could be written about what I don’t know now.  I just don’t know that I don’t know it yet.  And only as we continue the pursuit of what we don’t know, will we ever find out what we never knew.

Coach Brian Dutcher’s comment sums it up for me quite well; “Life is about what you learn after you think you know everything”.  I once thought I knew everything I needed to know.  Now I realize that the pursuit of what you don’t know begins AFTER you come to the conclusion that you’ve come to know everything about something.  I trust our pursuit of what we don’t know, will continue the rest of our lives, and…into eternity.



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