A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford

“Irrefutable,” the handwritten note said. My debate partner and I had just won a debate in a collegiate tournament. The judge’s rating sheet of my performance said we’d earned a superior rating, the best you could get. And scribbled on my evaluation sheet was the one word: “irrefutable!”

All six of us Rice girls graduated from Wheaton College\ “Ahh!” I preened as I looked at that handwritten accolade. “Even the judge thinks my arguments unanswerable!” I felt secure in my gloating, because Wheaton College was one of the very best Christian colleges in America, and my debate speech had been irrefutable. The judge said so.

A couple of weeks later, at the next debate tournament on another college campus, with another “superior win,” a different judge scribbled on my evaluation sheet: “irrefutable.” You can imagine my conceited thinking. “I am really good!”

But when, at a third tournament, another judge again wrote the single word, “irrefutable,” I suddenly stopped to wonder. Why would all three judges use the exact same word to describe my debate skills? Something was wrong. That was more than coincidence. What were they trying to tell me? With a sigh, I opened a dictionary. I had put the accent on the third syllable, not the second. Those judges weren’t complementing me; they were correcting my pronunciation. I could have known that from the beginning if I had just looked at the accent mark they so carefully made.

You may feel it was a trivial mistake I made, something that probably happens to most college students, but it made a profound impression on me. That day I realized I craved affirmation. I wanted so badly for people to approve of me. I wanted them to think I was really smart. That day I saw it was hurting my relationship with the Lord Jesus. I could see how my arrogance affected all my relationships: with my parents, my sisters, my friends, my teachers, my boss at my part-time job. So I had to change. I had to listen when I was corrected. I set out to listen. Here’s the way Proverbs 15:31-33 says it:

If you listen to constructive criticism,
you will be at home among the wise.
If you reject criticism,
you only harm yourself;
but if you listen to correction,
you grow in understanding.
Fear of the LORD teaches a person to be wise;
humility precedes honor.

Did that humiliating experience change me forever? Oh no, dear me, no! But at least I am more aware that I need no one’s approval but God’s. If He’s satisfied with me, I should be content. He is so gracious a Heavenly Father! He judges me with love and with the promise to help me please those I am accountable to.

“Fear of the Lord teaches a person to be wise.” You can believe it, because it’s an irrefutable truth. God’s perfect Word says so.