I used to hate onions. I special-ordered my food without them and carefully picked out any offenders that dared to remain on my plate. Then, kids and COVID forced me to learn to cook, and I was surprised to notice how often onions found their way into recipes. By necessity, I figured out how to peel, slice, and chop my former foes, and though the insight came through tears, I began to understand that onions are widely used because they add a depth of flavor that other ingredients simply cannot replicate.
I still don’t love onions—especially raw ones—but I do have a grudging respect for them as an essential ingredient in many meals. In this way, onions remind me to be grateful for certain “life ingredients” that I am tempted to scorn. Criticism, waiting, frustrating situations, mundane tasks, “sandpaper” people, disappointment, and suffering are a few things that come to mind. I wish I could special-order my life without these things, but like onions, they produce a depth of character that other, sweeter ingredients cannot replicate.
There is sweetness in an onion’s flavor profile, but it doesn’t become apparent until heat is added. Caramelization is not possible without fire, and this is true in life as well. There are portions of God’s peace and comfort that can only be known when we’ve “walked through the fire”. There is a level of empathy that is only reached when we’ve experienced another person’s pain. Cutting causes tears, but tears can bring healing.
The onion’s nutrients provide a variety of health benefits, and this is the case with my life’s onions too. They make me stronger if I let them. Ironically, onions were among the foods that the people of Israel longed for, even as they despised the gift of manna (bread from Heaven) that God rained down on them in the desert after their exodus from slavery:
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.—Numbers 11:5
What a different perspective the Israelites might’ve had if they had allowed pungent onions to make them grateful for sweet manna!
My prayer is this:
God, thank you for your good hand at work—even among the ‘onions’ of my life. Use the onions to develop my character. Make me more grateful for the times when you graciously rain down manna from heaven—the “sweet stuff” that you lavishly give, though I don’t deserve it. Help me peel back layers to see the good in the things I’ve been prone to despise. I do not ask for trouble or hardship, but if it comes, teach me to turn to you and experience the sweetness of your comfort and peace. If I must cry, let my tears open a well of compassion for others. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.