Posted by May 15, 2018on
I didn’t start crying until six layers into the onion. I don’t usually cry when peeling onions. Cutting them, yes, but not peeling them. But I don’t usually peel them layer by layer either. And with this onion, I didn’t know what to expect.
The week before Passover I bought the largest onion I could find. It was starting to rot, an unexpected bonus. A few weeks later, I peeled the onion, layer by layer.
The darkest winter of my life
I was coming through the darkest winter of my life. Passover preparation was a challenge, because one of the things trials do is help you see areas in your life you need to improve, things you couldn’t see before.
God allows and uses trials specifically for that purpose (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 12:5-8, 11; James 1:2-4). The more intense the trial, the more intense these personal revelations seem to be.
So, after a year of what felt like intensive Passover preparation, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I prayed about it, because I didn’t want to take the Passover in an unworthy attitude and heap more sorrows unnecessarily onto my next year (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). God helped with the Passover preparation by more trials and personal revelations. The intensity increased.
While I was in the depths of trying to sort through it all, someone on a whim suggested I buy a large onion and write down the areas in which I was being spiritually and personally challenged on each layer as I peeled it.
I’d never met the person before, and she only knew a very small part of the situation. But the next day I bought an onion. A few weeks later I finally peeled it.
Before I peeled each layer off, I wrote the next level of overcoming/underlying sin on the onion. Each layer went to a deeper part of what I needed to work through.
Layer by layer
The first layer was brittle and difficult to take off without digging into the next thicker layer. The thin, brown skin broke into many pieces, refusing to come off in one neat, easy piece. It took a long time.
It seemed to so perfectly represent the veneer we have on the surface of our lives. The surface generally looks okay, but our natural self-serving ways are thin and brittle. They break apart because they’re focused on self, rather than primarily serving God and secondly serving others. It’s the thinnest layer, but it takes the longest. It often also takes us a long time to fully see ourselves; the veneer is peeled back slowly and painfully, like the bits of brown skin pushing behind my fingernail.
The second layer was the most rotten layer. It was easier to peel, but it wasn’t particularly enticing to touch the rotten parts to remove them.
The rot left its mark on part of the third layer. Like sin and overcoming, each layer of the onion builds on the previous layer and affects the layers above and below it. Layer three was also when I started noticing the thin, slimy skin between the layers starting to appear. I had to fully remove the thin slimy layer so the pen would work and I could write on the next layer.
On layer four my eyes started to sting. Layer five was extra juicy. Each layer fit the thing I needed to overcome in some way.
Then I got stuck. I couldn’t see what the next layer of this spiritual exercise was. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t identify it, so I got on my knees and prayed about it. The answer was something I didn’t expect, something I had never thought of in quite that way before. I wrote it on the onion, and as I peeled it, I realized that in some ways that layer summed up so much of the darkness and struggle of the past year. That was the layer the onion gases really got to my eyes and I cried.
On layer seven, the onion split into two parts. On layer eight, it split into three.
Layer nine was difficult to peel between the three different parts without breaking the onion apart. There were more tears on that layer.
A surprise at the center
I wrote two things on layer 10. I’d done this for many of the layers, two things that complemented each other but were part of the same underlying issue. But on layer 10 I hesitated, contemplating whether I should wait to write the second thing on the next layer. Finally, I wrote both of them on the same layer.
I wondered what I would eventually find at the center of the onion. I’ve cut many onions and the center of the onion is never particularly outstanding, nor does it smell any worse. It’s just smaller.
I peeled the 10th layer and caught my breath. Green shoots. Underneath all the brittle, rotting and teary layers, there was growth. Underneath all that sin and overcoming, God was working out something much greater. Something I couldn’t see until I’d pulled off all those layers and the slimy skin between them.
So, while the freezing rain hit the window on that unusually cold April day, I went in search of earth to plant my onion. Spring is coming—outside and inside.