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by Dana VanderLugt
In her recent book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist describes a metaphor for prayer — a bottle of salad dressing, the vinegar resting on top, oil at the bottom. When you pray, she writes, “pour out the vinegar first–the acid, whatever’s troubling you, whatever hurts you, whatever is harsh and jangling your nerves or spirit…you have to start with the vinegar or you’ll never experience the oil.”
While I’ve never minded a little vinegar, there seems to be an abundance of it lately – what feels like jars and jars of acid to pour out each time I turn to the news, glance at my phone, or look into the heavy eyes of a good friend. I’ve found myself feeling more angry, confused, disillusioned, and irritable than I have in a long time.
I have struggled to write in the last months, struggled to pray, struggled to speak articulately about the heaviness I feel around me. In a nation, a community, a school, and a family swirling with political tension, I haven’t felt very wise. Amid so many frustrated, angry (and justly so) voices, it’s hard to know what to say.
But maybe it’s better to be honest than to be wise. To show up and cry out like David in the Psalms.
This is the opposite of what I was taught as a kid in Sunday School — which was that a proper prayer used the ACTS acronym: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that idea, but the formula isn’t working for me right now. I have some vinegar to deal with first.
The only way I can find to my way back to God is to abandon what I feel like I should say – to run away from illusions of wisdom, and to start praying by pouring, by showing up raw and authentic and emptying out.
By admitting that I am struggling with grace – accepting it, giving it, living it.
Admitting that I am tired. Tired of sorting out the difference between Christ and Christianity. Tired of feeling like I need to defend my faith, singing the anthem of “We’re not all like that.” Or maybe, “my God’s not like that.”
Admitting that I am wavering and uncertain about when to speak and when to listen. When a hard conversation is merited and when it’s fruitless.
Admitting that I am distracted — having a hard time turning away from, not getting entrenched in the posts, the tweets, the comments, the online narrative.
Admitting that I am battling what it looks like to parent well. I avoid some of the hard conversations I should be having with my kids, while they hear me say things I’d rather not have repeated.
While I am weary of the bitter taste of this vinegar, I am also awakened and shakened by it. If the resting position of American Christians is comfortable apathy, could this season turn me toward action? Could my frustration become motivation, fuel for a deeper connection with a God who listens to our cries and a greater love and passion for the people around me? And if I keep approaching God with my vinegar, trusting him with it, will I have better access to that oil of grace that I can humbly accept and share?
Lord, may it be so.
Dana VanderLugt teaches English to middle school and Hope College students. She blogs at www.stumblingtowardgrace.com.