I have been reading the book Present over Perfect and there is one chapter that has been stirring in my mind. It is too good not to share and I just have to put my thoughts down somewhere. The concept is something I knew to be true but the way she explains it brought a whole new light to the way I have approached my prayers since.
She starts by having you imagine oil and vinegar dressing. I instantly think of the delicious combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar that we use to dip our favorite artisan bread with. The pungent tanginess of the vinegar with the rich and luscious oil can’t be beat. The oil sits at the bottom and the vinegar naturally separates to the top.
“When you begin to pray, pour our the vinegar first — the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurt you, whatever is harsh and jangling your nerves or spirit. You pour that out first.”Shauna Niequist
With balsamic vinegar, the imagery is even more clear. The dark splotches of vinegar are easy to spot. They are drastically different from the beautiful golden hue of the oil. Like Shauna, I sometimes feel guilty or silly praying about normal, trivial things — a stressful day of work or when my feelings get hurt. I think, “People have so many larger problems than mine, why would God give this the time of day?” Instead of saying — “I’m worried about this child, or I’m hurt from this conversation. I’m lonely, I’m scared. I don’t know how this thing will even get fixed”, I quickly say everything I am blessed with and grateful for and ask a few things before I can spew out all the vinegar in my heart. It just feels too needy. So I wrap it up, say Amen, and off to bed to shut down my mind.
But Shauna opened up my mind and brought the realization that once you release all that vinegar, what you will find is the oil. “We’re going to be fine. God is real and good and present and working.” The oil is our gratitude and praise. It’s our offering and it represents the divine truth that God loves me and I am never alone.
“He wants me to bring the vinegar so that I can taste the oil.”
Years ago, when I did a study abroad in Jerusalem and we visited handfuls of olive presses. There is even one in our living quarters that is used each harvest season. It is a true labor of love that takes a lot of hard work, time, and patience from start to finish. Unless you see the whole process, you don’t fully understand the dedication it involves and you take for granted this grueling and tiresome work. This is so often the case with God’s love — we take for granted the selfless and unseen Hand in our lives and don’t take advantage of the love and peace He is constantly offering us.
It clicked for me. God doesn’t just want my gratitude. He wants all of me. My fears, doubts, hurt. He wants my vinegar. I’ve been missing that true connection to God, which begins when I quit trying to hide the vinegar from Him.
We have to be willing to admit everything, even if we think it is a self-inflicted problem or that the solution is simple enough to fix ourselves. He wants it all. Then he gifts us with the oil that is filled with his love and we are rewarded for our faithfulness.
“You have to start with the vinegar or you’ll never experience the oil…You have to pour out the acid before you get to the richness, and you can’t get there unless you’re willing to truly be seen, vinegar and all.”Shauna Niequist
I have become too familiar with the idea of ignoring my vinegar. Making myself so numb I am emotionless. And my prayers become like broken records where I say the dutiful and happy things but leave a wall up of what I truly need to lay down and offer to the Lord. My prayers have become too formal and it’s time to make them more like a Marco Polo vent to a friend.
God is waiting for us to tell him the rawest parts of our hearts and hurts and when we pour it out to him, He creates something beautiful. We can be beautiful and broken at the same time, no doubt in my mind about that.
There’s another quote I love that says, “Each time we acknowledge our brokenness and bring it to God for healing, we have a new opportunity to experience God’s love and power.” (Richard J. Hauser). So here’s to being more vulnerable, pouring out the vinegar first, and growing a stronger connection to our Lord.