A dear friend of ours passed away unexpectedly this week. She was a loving wife, mother of four children, and only fifty-eight years old. At her memorial service, her husband, a man of great faith, though grief-stricken over the loss, was gallant and full of grace. At a time when many people might turn away from a God who seemed to turn his back on this precious family, he turned toward Him. It reminded me of a story about a swordsmith and his endurance in the midst of life’s fire.
The Story of the Swordsmith
A swordsmith was a new convert to the Christianity and did his best to live up to his baptismal commitments. Yet almost immediately after his conversion, his life was beset with trial after trial that pressed heavy on his heart and brought him to his knees. A friend who was not of his faith witnessed what was happening. In his eyes, he saw the newfound religion doing absolutely no good for his friend. While he continued to remain faithful, his trials seemed to worsen. One day the friend questioned the swordsmith about this. He asked why he could remain faithful to a god who continued to punish him mercilessly. The swordsmith paused and thought before he replied.
He held a wrought iron tong in one hand and a hammer in the other. Clutched between the tongs was a piece of metal which he held under the burning coals until it was fiery hot. He brought the metal out of the fire and while it was still glowing and malleable, he hammered it flat, folded it, then plunged it in a basin of water. He would need to repeat this sixteen times before he could begin to hammer it into a sword. When the steam cleared, he turned to his friend with this reply. “As a swordsmith, I need to use the strongest metals I can find that will hold up under the worst conditions. Otherwise, the sword I produce will be of no value. This piece of metal will soon be a fine sword.”
He motioned to a scrap pile against the wall. “But that metal over there could not take the constant heat, the pounding and shaping, and the sudden cooling. It is no good to me.” He looked back at the metal he was working with. “I am like this piece of metal. When I decided to be a true convert, I promised to change my old ways for something better. My God is my Master, somewhat like a swordsmith Himself. He did not promise me it would be easy, but He promised it would be worth it. If I cannot stand up to the trials in life and allow them to make me stronger, I am like that pile of metal in the corner—of no value to my Maker. But if I can endure the cycle of heat and pounding and water, I can become what my Master needs me to be. When the cycle finally comes to an end, and I have endured it well, I will be worth more than I am at this moment. I know my Master is not trying to break me down. He is trying to reshape me into something far better than I am today. I trust that He knows me better than I do.”
What the Friend Sees
As I go through my own trials in life, I picture myself in this story and ask, “Who am I?” Sometimes I am like the friend. I see the trials (or “fire”) people must endure and I wonder how they do it. Even my own trials at times seem too much to bear, and I question whether or not it’s worth the effort to endure. But the consequences of giving up or giving in have proven to be even less fruitful. What the friend sees is shortsighted. He magnifies the trial and diminishes the end result. He blames the Creator for causing pain, and then remains angry at Him for doing so.
What the Swordsmith Sees
The swordsmith is the one enduring the onslaught of trials and yet remains faithful to his God. He does not look at his trials or time in the fire as punishment but as a vehicle to take him to a higher state of being. He understands that through adversity he will become stronger. He understands this because of the work he does in his shop and his ability to project this into his life. But it does not stop there. He is able to see the spiritual benefits of endurance long before the sword is free of the refiner’s cycle.
The Refiner’s Cycle
Heat—pounding—cooling—repeat. This is the cycle used to create the perfect sword. It is also the spiritual cycle used to bring us to godliness. The heat softens the material. This is necessary to do before it can be reshaped into something useful. Spiritually speaking, the heat and fire represents the trials in our lives: anything that brings us to a humble heart and a contrite spirit. Our Heavenly Father cannot speak to us if we are not ready to listen. He cannot influence us if our hearts are hardened. Our nature is such that oftentimes it is the trials in life that soften us to our knees before we can stand taller.
Next comes the pounding. The sword must be folded sixteen times to strengthen the metal enough to be a proper sword. This requires a great deal of pounding. The spiritual pounding is the reshaping of our will to match the will of our Heavenly Father. But it is not our Father in Heaven who inflicts the pounding—we do that with our own will. The pounding comes from the wrestling in our heart between the ways of the world and the ways of the Lord as we come closer to taking the leap of faith to act righteously. While our Father in Heaven persuades us to make the right choices—choices to do good, choices to repent, choices that take us out of our comfort zone in order to give us opportunities to grow—Satan works harder to tighten his grip on us. While Heavenly Father reaches down to help us up, Satan pressures us to stay down. The back and forth is like a pounding. Until we act in faith and commit to the will of our Heavenly Father—like plunging into the basin of water—that pounding may last a while. But be of good cheer—it never lasts forever.
After the pounding comes the cooling. When the metal is thrust into the water, its chemical makeup changes, which helps strengthen it further. It solidifies the process allowing the steel to endure the heat again. In our spiritual lives, the cooling process is like the blessings we receive when we make the choices that line ourselves with our Heavenly Father’s will. Our hearts are changed, we are strengthened and blessed. We receive a special witness of His mercy and love—a witness that we cannot deny. The more trials we face, the more we repent under pressure, the more blessings we receive. And so, the stronger and more useful we become in God’s eternal plan.
Finally we repeat. This is the hardest part—knowing that just once through the refiner’s fire is not enough. At times a trial is quick to overcome. Other times, trials can last a lifetime. But it is in how we face the trial, how we take to the pounding and reshaping that defines our state of endurance. Can we remember to thank our Father in Heaven for the gift of facing trials and for the blessings that come after we endure them? Or do we shake a fist at heaven and curse Him for our circumstances? In my life there have been times where as soon as I felt the refreshing cool water of relief I was thrown right back into the fire again. Other times I’ve felt the reshaping from my Father in Heaven take a little longer—sometimes due to my stubbornness but oftentimes because of circumstances in the world around me. I’ve also been able to look back and notice the times I endured well brought me closer to the Lord. We cannot abandon the last phase of the process. To repeat the process is as necessary as the process itself. It is not easy, but if we stay positive and keep an eternal perspective, in the end it will be worth it.
What God Has in Store for Us
It is difficult to imagine the immense blessings our Father in Heaven has in store for us, especially when we are in the fire. But we can see a tiny fraction of them when we remember the tender mercies we receive daily from Him. This is vital to our spiritual refinement. To be able to recognize the small blessings and to watch them add up allows us a glimpse of the enormity that awaits us in an infinite and perfect life with God. More importantly it helps us to endure the next round in the refiner’s fire, pushing us one step closer to godliness.
This article was originally published in June 2014. Minor changes have been made.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.