Back in college, there were around 10 of us who would drive to Johnny Carino’s in Abilene every Monday night for Family Night. We would fill up on bread, salad and soup, and then take our giant portions of pasta home to share over the next three days. They’ve probably ended that deal by now because of people like us. My favorite part of the meal was the bread. Loaves of bread that flaked and crunched when you tore off a piece, still hot from the oven. There were little white plates filled with olive oil and vinegar with red pepper flakes, and we’d wipe each one clean with the bread. Italians really do the whole eating thing well.
I’m learning prayer is like oil and vinegar1. The oil is our offering. It’s the oil of the Old Testament that women used to press with their hands and then use as both sacrament and nourishment. The oil is our thanksgiving, our gratitude, our praise.
Then there is the vinegar. Vinegar is acidic. Vinegar holds our fears, our struggles, our nightmares and our brokenness.
I’ve always thought oil should come before the vinegar in prayer. Perhaps it’s the opposite.
When I’m praying to Jesus, my brain knows that he knows my heart. But I feel like he doesn’t deserve my vinegar. He deserves my oil. I have so much to be thankful for. I have a husband who loves me, and together we have two healthy little girls. We live in a city where we feel safe, and we don’t have to worry if there will be food on the table. We go on dates and trips. We get to spend many of our evenings reading books or watching The Office — whatever we're in the mood for. Last weekend, we drove to Colorado to celebrate our dear friends getting married in the middle of the mountains while a sunset took place before our eyes. There is much oil in my life.
So, when I battle thoughts of feeling worthless, I don’t want to take those thoughts to Jesus. He shows up in my life every day. He showers me with grace upon grace, and still I find myself thinking thoughts like, "You are nothing. Everyone else is contributing to this world, and you could so easily be replaced. You are worthless."
My vinegar — in the form of an anxious spirit — feels self-inflicted, so why on earth would I hand that burden off to Jesus when he has real issues to deal with?
But that’s just it. He already knows my vinegar. He wants me to trust him with my vinegar. It’s only after I release the vinegar in my heart that the oil can find its richness.
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:5-7
Gratitude is vital for a healthy day. Neglecting to pinpoint what I have to be thankful for leads to greed and taking gifts for granted.
Jesus doesn’t just want my gratitude, though. He wants all of me. He wants my fears, my doubts, my hurt. He wants my vinegar. He wants my vinegar because he wants to trade it for peace. He wants to trade it for teaching and growth. He wants my vinegar so he can fill me with oil.
1. Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, is where I started learning about prayer as oil and vinegar. This book is phenomenal, and I highly recommend it for anyone recovering from perfectionism.↩