It was one of the hottest days of the week, the initial coolness of the month of May finally giving itself over to the sweltering heat of a North Carolina summer. Hannah, Anna, and I sat under the carport at Anna’s house, drinking bubble tea and talking. Today was one of those days when I felt particularly pregnant, although I’m not really sure how to describe my feelings beyond that.
There was a point in the conversation where Hannah started sharing how God had recently brought up a sin issue in her life that she thought she’d dealt with some time ago, and yet, instead of being discouraged by “still” struggling with it, she shared the thought of the Onion.
Smelly, Sinful Layers
So, not a physical onion, but think of the movie Shrek (if you don’t know the movie or think that it’s totally vulgar, just bear with me). There’s a point where Shrek (the ogre and main character) is trying to explain to his “friend” Donkey (the donkey and adorably annoying side character) that so many people judge ogres based on their appearance, when there’s way more to them than people think.
“Ogres are…like onions!” Shrek says as he holds out the onion he’s eating.
“They stink?” Donkey says.
“Oh, they make you cry?”
“Ooohhh, if you leave ’em out in the sun, they get brown, and start sproutin’ little white hairs?”
“No!” Shrek says, exasperated. “Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it, they both have layers. Ugh.”
Donkey then goes on to name off many other things that people like more than onions that also have layers (cakes, parfaits, etc.) in order to improve Shrek’s illustration, but the point still stands. Hannah’s point, however, was not that ogres have layers and that they’re misunderstood. Her point was that our sin has layers.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The idea beneath this idea of “layers of sin” is that, while we may be struggling with the same type of sin (worrying, or pride, or lust, for example) years into following Christ, we’re not struggling with it nearly to the same level as we were when we first started following Him.
Thankful for the Layers
The next evening, at Tuesday night Bible study on post, my small group went through an illustration called the Prayer Hand, which basically looks like this:
I’ve been trying out modeling my prayers after this illustration, and it’s been really cool, particularly as I look for scripture with which to praise God, and deliberately evaluate my heart as to what sins I’ve been treasuring, which need to be confessed to God.
This illustration and its use combined with the conversation with Hannah about the “onion layers of our sin” led me, for the next day or so after Tuesday night study, to thank God for all of the ways that He’s changed me, and to reflect on the testimony of God’s transforming power in my life. At first, I thought this might lead me to think too highly of myself, but it ended up doing the exact opposite.
“Lord, thank You for all that You’ve done in me, since even before I chose to follow You; You were working even then…Lord, thank You for the fact that I am no longer as consumed by my emotions, or as easily driven by my moods as I used to be. Thank You for Your lordship and sovereignty over my emotions, for training me to rightly separate myself from my emotions, that I might rightly see them for what they are and submit them to You. Thank You for how much less anxious I am, and for how I’ve grown in living out the idea of ‘I’ll/we’ll figure it out,’ actually trusting that the unknown of the future is in Your hands. Thank You for how You’ve trained and continue to train me in being faithful to You here and now.
“Thank You for the very small practices of not quieting my Christian conversations with Christian people in public places, of mentioning You to the cashier yesterday even though she didn’t acknowledge it. Thank You for Your grace toward me, and yet thank You also for Your loving discipline of me, for loving me enough to expose the darkness of my heart and the sin that I allow to enslave my members, particularly that sin to which I am blind. Thank You for how much more selfless I am since You drew me to Yourself, for training me to be better at considering others as more important than myself, regardless of how I feel at the moment. Thank You for teaching me how to pray, for using Jake to show me what discipleship could look like, and for letting me be a part of the lives of other women to disciple them and to be discipled by them, even though I’m still such a mess in You, Lord. Oh, God…I don’t deserve You, or deserve to follow You, even to speak of You, much less know You…” (prayer journal entry, 5/23/18)
While every one of the things I thanked God for could be followed by “Even though I still struggle with these things to some degree,” the way I was led to thank God was not, “thank You, God, for the fact that I am now completely selfless/patient/peaceful/etc.,” but rather thanking Him for what He has actually done…I realized that I wasn’t thanking God for what He’d done in my life because I wasn’t perfect yet, functioning within the thought of “When I’m perfect at all of these things, then I’ll thank God.” I was robbing God of credit due to Him, simply because I didn’t want to look selfish or prideful.
And all of this led me to feel very small…I haven’t changed or “gotten better” at all of these things because of something I have done. I can’t take credit for whatever change has happened in me. There are no methods I’ve followed or books I’ve read or actions I’ve taken that have magically changed me, but rather His “transforming [me] by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12:2) to make me look more like Him.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30, italics mine)
And so, this thought is really encouraging! Not only have I changed (however little in comparison to how perfect God is), but when God brings up a new layer of a sin I’ve been dealing with for my whole life, it’s “because He’s ready to work on it” (Hannah’s thought), not to remind me of how much I’m sucking at being perfect. He’s showing me abundant grace by opening my eyes to something that prevents me from more completely and wholeheartedly following Him.
So, to encourage you, reader: If you’ve been running hard after Christ and you’re coming up against sins that you feel you should’ve “gotten over” already, remember that your Lord is working things out in you, and reflect on how He’s changed you in that area of sin, and be excited that He’s “ready to work on” this new layer, that you may experience greater freedom in Him.
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'” (John 8:31-32)