Forging a Sword
Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the “hero” within us is revealed.
And that’s how to start a chapter like this one!
I think it’s safe to say that most women don’t see themselves as heroes, so it might be easy to breeze over a quote like this one and not let it apply to us. But we need to let it apply. Because the truth is, “Pressure reveals our core.” (Fencing Manual, p.92)
Can you think of a time when the pressure was on? How did you respond? What did it reveal about your core?
For me, I think about that early fall day of 2000 when I flew from Corpus Christi, TX to Oklahoma City with my two little boys (6 & 2). It was a season of transition–we were moving to OKC, so this trip was a house-hunting trip. The first leg of the trip was a flight on this LITTLE propeller plane — a little harrowing, but survivable. We had to unload in Houston on the tarmac and walk into the airport. I’m carrying our bags, a car seat, and have the two boys in tow. We were running a little late, so I felt rushed.
I was overwhelmed to discover our connecting flight was in a completely different location. I had to catch a tram to try to make the flight. Of course we had a poopy diaper to deal with en route and somehow I missed our “exit.” So by the time we got to the right terminal, we were late…and we still weren’t at the gate. I was in full panic mode. The pressure was on.
I was quite literally dragging my two year old behind me as my six year old tried to keep up, running through the terminal. Got within steps of the gate and someone offered us a ride! That kind invitation was not received well — where was he 30 minutes ago??
But we were at the gate! Finally! …only too late. They’d closed the airplane. And though it was still there the lady at the desk wouldn’t open it for us. More pressure. This momma popped. I yelled, begged, and even cried. But to no avail. We had to sit it out for several hours to catch another flight.
I absolutely cringe when I picture how I handled that whole scenario. There was nothing healthy or heroic about my actions that day. I should have started off by asking for help. I should have prayed. I should have put my boys before a schedule. But I didn’t.
The pressure that day revealed my core. I was trying to do that season in my own strength.
I’d love to say I learned my lesson that day and our weekend house-hunt went well. But it didn’t. That core still wasn’t right. But when I got back to Corpus, I spent time with the Lord and with some godly women and started working on that core. I learned a lot from that experience, as horrifying as it is to recall. I want my core to be grounded in Christ so when the pressure is on, I can respond more like Him.
Lisa continues her analogy of the sword beautifully in this chapter. How do we become more Christ-like? Well, we succumb to the forging-like techniques that a sword would go through. We allow forces outside of us to produce in us strength and flexibility that wouldn’t occur otherwise.
Crafting a sword is much more like forging a life than we might first suspect, and Lisa unpacks how this is true throughout the chapter. Forging a sword is a repetitive process of heating, cooling, and hammering. It’s called “tempering.” And through this process the sword becomes strong and flexible, not brittle. If we were to allow life’s pressures to mold and shape us so that we come away stronger and more flexible, we’d be less brittle too!
So, let’s think about this process. When have you passed through waters? Can you think of a time that life’s pressures made you feel like you were drowning? Our group did a great job of putting thought and words to this. We could think of times in our lives when we felt so overwhelmed that we were “barely keeping our heads above the water,” or we “worked hard just to tread water.” We talked about that sensation of drowning in all the pressures or details of life. One friend said she often felt like she “couldn’t see the shoreline” from where she was…a very scary place to be. We related to water’s cleansing nature, as well as its dangerous forces in floods or tsunamis.
Life’s pressures can certainly be related through this imagery of passing through waters…just as swords being forged must pass through water. The trick for us when we’re IN the waters is to realize the potentials and possibilities that come from such a season. Where is God in those overwhelming times? How can we keep our eyes on Him instead of the waves? And if we think about how often our passages through water become seasons of TRANSITION, we can look to God for direction instead of giving in to the pull of the riptides of life.
Then there’s fire. When have you traveled through flames? Lisa suggests that life’s “trials by fire” most often come in the form of challenging or hurtful relationships, financial stresses, and the trials of discovering life purpose. Our group could think of many situations when they came away feeling “burnt to a crisp” or felt they had “jumped from the frying pan into the fire.” It’s interesting how well these analogies fit exactly how we feel in those moments of pressure.
As we discussed our trials by fire, we generally felt these trials were more painful and intense than our experiences in the water, but we didn’t feel like one experience (by water or fire) was worse…just different. And just as waters may bring about transition in life, fire might bring about TRANSFORMATION. How often are we changed by the experiences that burn us!? When we keep that perspective during our trials and as we come out of them, we realize God has purpose in them. They aren’t wasted experiences.
This life is full of furnaces called affliction. The key to successfully navigating them is knowing that our God is in charge of setting both the temperature and the timer.
Lisa looks to Isaiah 48:10-11 as she teaches about the pressures that are added to the dynamics of water and fire. These pressures, afflictions, trials can be for our good:
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Lisa teaches that the world “behold” is an “invitation to look at something from a larger, vaster vantage.” In other words, when we’re in the affliction, try to step back and look for God. “Whenever we are in ‘the process,’ we can lose sight of the purpose.” (FM, p.96)
As we go through our afflictions, we should also be aware of the fruit that we bear as a result of affliction. Our group laughed…or more like groaned…when we read this:
It’s important that you remember the good that came out of it [affliction] because…
There’s more to come…
Our groans reflected the reality of these words. There will always be another trial to face — another fire to put out. So, let’s learn and grow and be strengthened by each trial so that when the next one comes along, we’re more prepared, more ready, more able to respond as Christ would respond. And then we can watch what comes of it…what the fruit of it will be!
The “En Garde” section of this chapter reads: “Today I choose to act and thus live, rather than allow the battle to drive me.” We loved the hope in this! We have a choice in our responses to life’s pressures! And when we choose to enter into the battle with truth and power from God, the battle no longer controls us!
Lisa spends quite a bit of time in James 1:2-8, which teaches that our trials should be counted as gifts! While none of us really felt like we could feel happiness in those hard seasons, we did try to understand that godly joy is separate from the experience, the circumstance. It is from that place of godly joy that we can praise God for the hard times because we have that “vaster vantage point;” we realize that God is at work, doing something for our good in the midst of the floods and fires of life.
Two verses from this James passage read:
So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (verses 3-4)
How do you interpret this? Lisa says, “We all go through tests, so why not allow them to have a full effect?” And while it may be hard to have that perspective in the midst of the trial, I agree!! The trial is going to happen, so why not let something come of it. I’d much rather come away stronger, braver, more in control than beaten, bruised, and scared. How about you?
Another groaner… “I have learned that if I pull out of something too early, it usually means a retest in the future.” So, the trial comes and we find a way “out” of it to keep from getting fully blistered by its flames, but we don’t grow stronger…in fact, we may come away more brittle. That means the next trial, that re-test, will be harder to bear. Instead of cutting short the power of the pressure, we should let it temper us into the strong, flexible sword God intents for us to be!
The heart of this chapter: Will you choose to allow adversity and affliction to refine, temper, sharpen, and balance you, or will you crumble?
Submitting to the forging,