It’s a somewhat common evaluation of ones social abilities, a frequent comment on grade school report cards. It was on mine anyway. “Doesn’t work/play well with others.” When I was 18, starting my fourth full-time job since dropping out of high school, it dawned on me that adults are just bigger, gradually hardened versions of their childhood selves. Not just me, every one of the 50 or so people who worked there had a personality that distinctly reminded me of someone else I had known as a child. I’m 46 now and over all, my evaluation of society hasn’t changed much. Reunions show what we have made of who we are, most of the “who”s haven’t changed much, and neither have I.
Hardening is a delicate process. Done well it develops strength, flexibility and integrity. Done poorly or recklessly and incompleteness, fragility and weakness can result. The metal worked by a blacksmith can be reheated, formed and retreated. It remains of the same substance, but is transformed by quenching. We go through trials of fire and quenching throughout our lives but retain something of ourselves. The part of us that even with doubled weight, thinning hair and sagging skin, can be seen within minutes of reuniting with a childhood friend. Whether we can still smile and laugh with them and forget everything that has burned or cooled us in 30 or 40 years for a moment is a good indicator of the quality of hardening that has taken place.
The conversation that’s had in that sort of reunion can be so telling of the trials by fire we’ve experienced. It can also come out in conversations with newer but close, trusted friends. The highs and lows of life summarized, generally with the greatest hardenings coming out first. Some people have endured a multitude of firings and still burn, others have been quenched to total isolation and others at every stage in between. But at the core, the same basic personality traits we had survived most of the fires. Ourselves, family, business, society and spirituality, past, present and future, are the basics of what we can focus on and we all must deal in each avenue to some degree. Our focus in these conversations and the order they come up expose our greatest level of hardening, the thing that stands strongest in our lives.
If you’ve ever reunited with someone who has found Christ since your last meeting, you will know. Not only will they tell you, you can tell. That is the greatest hardening. The quenching of repentance and baptism in the Holy Spirit. We suffer trials and celebrate success in career, education, and social status, but if we have truly accepted the good news of Jesus Christ, only God can make us or break us completely. We will share the story of Christ and will have His light shining from within our personality. We become his sword to be used or laid aside, but continually attended by the Lord as we’re shaped and purified.
The tools of the blacksmith have been purified and carefully quenched to withstand the fire of the forge, but due to their less than perfect nature and form, can be used, manipulated and damaged beyond usefulness. It takes the fire of the blacksmith to make them useful again. Put back in proper order to again perform the work they were designed for. If we belong to The Lord, no fire is hot enough to break our temper, short of His own. He will continue to purify and shape us for His will, but the world can only hurt us if we let it.
My substance, though hardened and quenched by any number of things, finally and perfectly by the Holy Spirit, remains. I still experience life as I always have, but with some noticeable differences since accepting Christ and undergoing his baptism, his quenching. I still get angry, it still feels like an explosion deep within me coming out through every fiber of my being when I do. But it takes much more to get me to that point, I’m better able to contain the blaze and it’s different things that make me angry. I still love, it still feels like a warm and calming blanket on my soul with an added twinge of excitement and call to action. But I love more steadily, more broadly and less selfishly. I’m still full of flaws and impurities, but they are slowly being worked out as He sanctifies me. I’m still seen by many as “does not play well with others”, but from what I’ve seen, I have more real and true and enduring friends than those popular people giving me the label. Despite my many flaws, I’m real and everyone knows it.
My best friend, your best friend, Jesus Christ, takes our impure, substandard mettle just as we are and purifies it. He shapes and strengthens us, but it’s the same soul he found us with. Your personality is who you are, and God loves you. If you accept him and love him back, your mettle will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and while the world may wear on you and scar you like an old hammer, it can’t break you.