The Fire in the Forge: How Trials Help Us Grow

This post was written by Luke Beckstrand, a Humanities Center student fellow.


One of the most challenging and age-old questions in the world strikes us all close to home: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s easy to wonder, if we’ve tried our best to live a good life and spread only service and love, why we are sometimes rewarded with stark, trying pains and challenges.

But on the other hand, how could it be any different? For instance, blacksmiths must heat ore to unbelievable temperatures and pound the metal into shape if they are to make quality swords, all before sharpening and filing the metal to a fine blade. From the metal’s point of view, perhaps this is the worst experience of its entire existence. But the finished product spoke for itself—swords were among the most versatile, useful, and popular weapons throughout the medieval period. And the stronger the ore, the hotter it had to be heated, and the better the outcome.

If the metal had been asked before being smithed, perhaps it would have shied away. Perhaps it would have preferred to remain as untouched ore—less useful, less durable, but certainly more comfortable. And oh, what a tragedy that would have been, for the metal to never fulfill its potential, never achieve its destiny, all in the name of comfort.

In Isaiah 48:10, the Lord is quoted with saying, “Behold, I have refined you… I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” Our Creator clearly understands this principle. That progress requires discomfort, that challenge inspires learning, that trials and pain can lead to great growth. The Lord has never shied away from giving His children difficulties, often in extremely severe levels. When met with these tribulations, we can react in one of two ways. We can either cry out in misconceived self-pity, asking “why me?”, or we can take the obstacles head-on, with squared shoulders and optimism, understanding that we are all taking steps through our own hero’s journeys.

I remember a mentor of mine sharing his thoughts on this topic. He mentioned that, if we had never tasted the bitter, we could never appreciate the sweet. I understood the sentiment of his lesson, but at the time I didn’t feel like it justified the difficulties I was facing in my life. Maybe it would’ve been alright to not appreciate the sweet, if I could just avoid tasting the bitter!

This train of thought got me thinking about Lois Lowry’s popular dystopian novel The Giver. In the futuristic, fictional society of The Giver, humanity had finally achieved a utopia. A place devoid of fear, anger, hate, pain, conflict, and all other negative aspects of life. At first this seems perfect and wonderful. Until, as the story progresses, you discover that this utopia was only made possible by systematically destroying many positive parts of life—love, joy, connection, laughter, beauty, and all the rest. Everyone was comfortable in this world, yes. They were not sad. But were they happy? No, not that either. In the end, the novel’s protagonist escapes from this society, setting off into an unfamiliar, terrifying world full of danger, disappointment, and sorrow, but also opportunity, love, and happiness.

When I thought about my mentor’s words, about sweet and bitter, the lesson suddenly made far more sense to me in the context of The Giver. And throughout my life, I have experienced this in action. Not long ago, my wife and I discussed what our three favorite moments were on our recent study abroad to Europe. What’s interesting is that, after reflectively considering our choices, we realized they all had a common theme: our favorite moments each took place after something difficult or challenging. My top favorite moment of the whole trip was only so sweet and wonderful because it had been a reprieve after a long, frustrating day.

So, would I rather never experience pain and disappointment in the name of comfort? Not anymore. Not after thinking it through. More desperately than anything, I want to love and be loved, I want to be happy and help others feel the same. And if those things are only possible through tribulation, then bring it on. I need the experience. I need the growth. I need the strength, the progress, and yes, the joy, that is only made possible by persevering through our own furnace of affliction. This perspective has helped me be less angry about the unfairness of my life, and I hope that it may do the same for you. It’s okay to be sad and scared. Just know that, in the end, you’ll be better off for it.

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