How to temper steel

Lynell Waterman tells the story of the blacksmith who decided to give up his youthful excesses and consecrate his soul to God. For many years, he worked hard and performed many acts of charity; yet despite all his devotion, nothing seemed to go right in his life. On the contrary, problems and debts merely seemed to mount up.

One afternoon, a friend was visiting him and, taking pity on the blacksmith's sorry situation, he said:

'It really is very strange that as soon as you decided to become a God-fearing man, your life should immediately have taken such a turn for the worse. I wouldn't want to weaken your faith, but, despite your firm belief in the spiritual world, nothing in your life has improved.'

The blacksmith did not reply at once; he had often thought the same thing himself, unable to understand what was happening in his life.

He wanted to give his friend an answer, however, and so he began to talk and ended up finding the explanation he was seeking. This is what the blacksmith said:

'The unworked steel arrives in my workshop and I have to make swords out of it. Do you know how that is done? First, I heat the metal until it is red-hot, then I beat it mercilessly with my heaviest hammer until the metal takes on the form I need. Then I plunge it into a bucket of cold water and the whole workshop is filled with the roar of steam, while the metal sizzles and crackles in response to the sudden change in temperature. I have to keep repeating that process until the sword is perfect: once is not enough.'

The blacksmith paused for a long time, lit a cigarette, then went on:

'Sometimes the steel I get simply can't withstand such treatment. The heat, the hammer blows, the cold water cause it to crack. And I know that I will never be able to make it into a good sword blade. Then I throw it on the pile of scrap metal that you saw at the entrance to the workshop.'

Another long pause, then the blacksmith concluded:

'I know that God is putting me through the fire of afflictions. I have accepted the blows that life deals out to me, and sometimes I feel as cold and indifferent as the water that inflicts such pain on the steel. But my one prayer is this: Please, God, do not give up until I have taken on the shape that You wish for me. Do this by whatever means You think best, for as long as You like, but never ever throw me on the scrap heap of souls.'