Learning Contentment

The debate tournament was a week away, and I wasn’t ready.  I needed both my affirmative and negative cases done or else I would show up unprepared and embarrassed. Only my affirmative was written, and I was under the gun to get the other case finished. To make matters worse, the negative side of the debate resolution was extremely difficult to argue, and I am a logical perfectionist, so formulating a strong argument was going to be challenging to say the least.  That whole week I struggled to form a negative argument that could work. The process was immensely difficult, but eventually after a great deal of thinking, banging my head against the dining room table, and many phone calls to a very smart friend, I was finally able to scramble something together. Little did I know my participation in this tournament was going to be an unforgettable experience that would teach me many valuable lessons.

The day before the tournament was both tiring and exciting. I spent the entire day (and night) writing more arguments, researching, and making sure I was ready. Not getting enough sleep and working nonstop was exhausting; but I was still energized – this would be my first time to compete and I was eager to use my negative case. Even though it had never been tested in an actual debate against another person, I was incredibly proud of my argumentation and confident that it would do well. Though winning wasn’t really my priority, I just wanted to gain the experience and meet new people. However, that never stopped me from believing my arguments were quite formidable.

The trip to Connecticut was great as I just turned on my playlist “Glory Ride” and pointed out the references to roads and paths in each song (my mom thought this was funny). I slept most of the ride, but that happy time soon ended as we arrived at the hotel. The next morning, I had to wake up bright and early at 5:00 a.m. Any other day I would have been sluggish and slow to get up, but on that day, I was driven. It would be a day of meeting people, learning new things, and testing my debate skills. The drive to the tournament couldn’t have come soon enough. Before we arrived however, I wanted to have a right heart before God. I didn’t want to walk through the day without seeking Him and trusting in His grace, so I prayed, Lord, whatever happens, whether I win or lose, let it all be for Your glory. Please give me the strength to do well.  Looking back now, I believe God answered my prayers.

My first debate was in a small, dimly lit classroom with a table in the back for the judge and a podium and two tables in front for the debaters. I met my opponent, and we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.  It seemed like twenty minutes before the judge finally entered the room. When she did, she took out her ballots. I knew I would later read from that very ballot when the week was over. Will I have done well? Nervousness started creeping in, but I reminded myself, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I was determined. More than my desire to win was my desire to develop my oratory skills and use them for God’s glory. Now it was my turn to speak. I walked to the podium, dressed handsomely in a dark grey dress suit, looking professional – ready to roll.  Well, here goes nothing.

Usually, when I am anxious about public speaking, I will be nervous right until the event begins. Depending on how I start my performance, I’ll continue to do better or worse. That day I was confident. Words flowed from my mouth nonstop for six minutes. After my first speech was finished, my opponent cross-examined me. He only asked a few questions, all of which weren’t difficult to answer. I sat back down in my chair waiting for the other speaker to use his prep-time. Everything else was easy from there.

Thirty minutes later we finished debating and I was satisfied. In my mind I knew I had won. My opponent didn’t have his arguments written down and he was a first-year inexperienced debater, so winning the round wouldn’t have been that accomplishment on my part; but overall, I performed well, and that’s all I cared about.

The second round was even better. It was my first time using my negative case, so why not run it against someone with debate experience?  I was lucky enough to face a 3-year debater, a senior in high school, who was also dressed in a sharp looking suit.  I would soon learn that he was extremely polished, intelligent, and persuasive.

The debate began. After he delivered his first speech, cross examination was up, and I was able to corner him into admitting a crucial point in support of my case. In my main constructive speech, I continuously brought this up and supported my arguments with multiple historical examples. He never addressed my evidence in his later speeches, and though I made some blunders along the way, I didn’t think they would cost me the round. In fact, the next day my opponent told me he thought I won.

After the debate I yell texted my super smart friend, “I THINK I JUST WON AGAINST A THIRD YEARER.” Obviously, I was excited. I entered this competition not expecting to win, but when my performances were better than expected, suddenly I was pleased with myself. I was becoming prideful.

The next four debate rounds didn’t help quell this feeling, as each were the same as before. I executed articulately, logically, and with forthrightness. It’s an understatement to say I never thought my first tournament would be this amazing. Dreams starting floating into my mind about breaking into the out rounds (playoffs for debate, so to speak). For a first-year debater to do that! Wow, that would be something. I ranted on and on to my mom about how good my chances of advancing were. “There is no way I’m not breaking,” I said repeatedly.  She was happy for me, as a mother always is, but she warned me, “Liam, I don’t want you to be overconfident and think that you’re going to break. You never know what’s going to happen. You might be setting yourself up for a big disappointment.” She was right, I didn’t know what would happen. But that never occurred to me then, the results seemed very apparent and I was way too wrapped up in myself. The only thoughts that were going through my head were about how I was going to break.

When the debate rounds were over, all the participants gathered together in a large college hall filled with rows of chairs. Everyone huddled in their groups as they encouraged each other over their odds. Yes, the time had come – the results. The clock kept ticking, and ticking, and ticking; and my heart was throbbing every second, waiting for the announcer to show up. But finally, the moment came. One of the leaders of the debate organization walked to the podium and spoke to the crowd of excited teenagers, “Are you all ready?”  Yes, I am.

Somehow in the back of my mind I knew what was going to happen. She started listing off the names of those who broke, “Sawyers, Strenstrom, Seaman…” Yes, there were lots of S’s, but the one I was waiting for was Siegler. I kept listening and listening…to my dismay I never heard it. The results were final. I didn’t break.

Excitement turned to disappointment and joy turned to sadness. My mom was right. I was crushed. I teared up a little; how did I not break? My arguments were solid! My evidence went unrefuted! My performances were fine! What did I do wrong? These thoughts generated many emotions, but I pulled myself together and congratulated those who made it. I was angry though, and this attitude exhibited itself in severe discontentment. My dissatisfaction was clear in every conversation I had later that day about the results. “I probably have a bad ballot,” I would tell everyone. They say denial is the first stage of grief. It’s probably true.

That night we returned to the hotel and I isolated myself in a quiet room for deep contemplation. What just happened? I pondered it. Throughout the course of a few days I made a lot of good friends, debated well, and experienced an amazing competition, but I didn’t break. Something was missing from the picture. Where was God? Whatever happened to doing it all for His glory? Did I forget about Him?

I then realized my wrongs. The tournament started with me seeking God for guidance. When I started to do well, moments where God should have been glorified turned into moments of self-exaltation. I was so confident in my own abilities that my joy became based in my performance and the results I believed would follow. This was false security, and it all fell apart as the results were announced. Simply put, I had stopped trusting in God, I was trusting in myself. I wasn’t finding contentment in His grace, I was finding contentment in my abilities. This realization humbled me. That night I repented, Oh Lord, I haven’t been trusting in you. Please help me to seek you again and find contentment in every situation. My abilities are nothing without you Christ. Please forgive me of my sins of pride and self-sufficiency.

The next day I didn’t compete, but I was no longer sour. The last hours were spent enjoying the fellowship of other Christian young people and encouraging those who broke into the out rounds. When the time came to depart, I walked away with a very memorable experience. God helped me perform well, and that was encouraging. However, the most significant part of the tournament were the lessons. I learned that only when I am satisfied in Christ will things like losing be okay. I learned that my performance will never lead me to contentment. True contentment is found in Christ. Looking back, this lesson was a hundred times better than winning any debate. Losing turned out to be better than I thought.

  • Annalia Fiore

    Good words, Liam. It is wonderful to be reminded to trust in God and not in one’s performance.