One of the things I like most about our having moved “a bit more country” is watching our kids explore nature in their own backyard. Recently, my husband took our kids through the process of making maple syrup.
It started last fall with lots of research and a hike through the woods to mark the right maple trees with ribbons. Anticipation built over the winter through ongoing discussion and acquiring necessary supplies. Finally, the right weather pattern of cool nights and warmer days arrived and it was time to tap the trees.
Holes were drilled and taps were placed in the designated trees and every day the kids were so excited to get home from school and go around checking their buckets and collecting the sap. This was a really fun time in our house as we all learned a lot about maple syrup and explored something new together.
It struck me one day listening to the kids talk amongst themselves about the sapping process that there’s a deeper life lesson to appreciate as well.
As the weather changes and the trees are exposed to warmer temperatures, life that has been dormant over the winter starts to flow. This awakening begins out of sight, deep in the tree. When conditions are right, the sap will run.
This can be likened to the awakening that happens in a person’s heart when we are exposed to the Gospel and the warmth of God’s love. As we respond to the grace and truth of this gift, it will transform us and love will flow out of us just as the sap flows from a tree if given an outlet.
There will be visible signs of the awakening that has happened internally. Areas of our lives that felt empty will feel full of life as Christ’s love brings new meaning to our inner searching for purpose.
Like the maple tree, the environment must be right. We must open ourselves up to what God has for us. Otherwise, His love in us may go largely untapped when it could have turned into something so incredibly sweet.
When boiling day finally arrived we were all so excited to boil the sap and taste the maple syrup, but this is not a quick process. It required a whole day of boiling down liters of sap to get a small bottle of syrup. For every 40 to 60 litres of sap (10-15 gallons), you can expect about 1 litre (1 quart) of syrup depending on the type of maple tree and a variety of other factors.
Like the sap, we need refining. We accept Jesus and the gift of salvation He offers, but if we just stop there and do not allow Him to refine us, the true sweetness and the life in abundance He desires for us may never be realized to it’s fullest potential. I’ve missed out on all that was there for me because I have not always been open to the refining process.
He saves and offers life in abundance.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:9-10
He continues to refine us.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
I love how Francis Chan talks about this in his study on the book of James. He says the term for testing in James 1:3 is the same term used by silversmiths for the process of testing (refining) silver. They would heat silver in a crucible over a fire. At a certain temperature, the impurities, called dross, would rise to the surface so they could scoop it off. They would then heat it again so that more impurities would rise to the surface and could be removed.
This process would happen over and over, removing additional impurities until the silver was ‘tested’ or pure. The way the silversmith could tell if the process of testing was complete was when he could look down and see his own reflection in the silver.
Through testing, God removes our impurities bit by bit so we better reflect Him.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7
Refining often happens during difficult circumstances: when we yield control to the one who can see us through whatever valley we are in. The “boiling off” is often painful. We may be convicted to change something that is difficult and painful for us to change. We may struggle in the midst of a storm we never imagined we’d ever find ourselves in. It can feel impossible to see beyond the moment to the sweetness that is to come.
Maybe you feel like I have sometimes. You know that ultimately perseverance through hardship will make you more of who you were meant to be… but you would still avoid the current pain even in light of the future promise of a more refined heart and spirit.
One thing I am increasingly convinced of is this: if we were truly able to see the incredible beauty of a more Christlike spirit, the refining process would look a lot different to us. Perhaps no less painful, but more desirable.
While I’m nowhere near being an expert maple syrup maker and certainly nowhere near being an expert Christian, I am learning to appreciate the life lessons that are all around me. Sometimes even when they’re painful.
I love how God uses everyday experiences through the eyes of my family and through nature, to teach me what He desires for me. Just like the boiling of sap or the testing of silver, change in our lives requires time, patience, and care. It usually also involves pain. As I am able to see change and growth in my life, it makes the ongoing refining at least a bit easier to bear.
My prayer is that we all allow God to work in us and refine us so that He can see more and more a reflection of Himself in us.