When a traditional silversmith works with silver, he must first remove the impurities from the rock. He puts the ore in a crucible and then puts the crucible in a furnace. The silver is roasted at over 1700o F (926 o C) until it melts. Dross, a waste material made up of impurities in the silver, rises to the top. The silversmith then skims it off the top, leaving the silver more pure. He might need to repeat this process up to seven times to remove all the impurities, each time heating the metal until it melts before the dross comes to the top and can be easily removed. When the silversmith can see the reflection of his image in the silver, he knows that it is pure.
If you’ve been feeling the heat lately, consider that you might be going through your own purification process. The Center for Creative Leadership has studied leaders and what makes them successful, and they have found that Hardships account for 34% of a leader’s development experience. In fact, Hardships teach us more than any of the other categories in their study (i.e. Challenging Assignments – 27%; Other People, like mentors, coaches and role-models – 22%; Other Events, like training, feedback, and success – 17%).
Some examples of instructive hardships include:
- Failures and mistakes
- Missed opportunities
- Conflict in relationships or with organizations
- Extended periods of stress
- Employee performance problems
- Personal traumas
Hard times tend to bring our weaknesses to the surface, forcing us to deal with them. When we struggle, we find we need to abandon qualities that make us ineffective in order to get through the fire. Being in the crucible teaches us humility, an essential quality in an effective leader. Unchecked success leads to arrogance. Failure reminds us that we are human and helps us understand the imperfections of others.
God allows difficult times of trial in our lives, because He loves us. He knows that time in the crucible will surface some of our selfishness, independence, pride, meanness of spirit, impatience and any other quality that keeps us from reflecting His image. Once He has skimmed this dross off of us, He evaluates us to see how much of Himself He can see in us. If the fire didn’t surface much dross, He sometimes needs to turn up the heat.
According to an old maxim, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s true, but only if you allow yourself to learn from the trial. As a friend of mine often says, don’t go through the experience and miss the meaning. What is the purpose of the refining fire in your life?
Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith.