The Bible is full of metaphors for how God sanctifies us, but in my book, the metaphor that sticks best is French onion soup. I know, stay with me.
Growing up, my cultural identity was a big question mark. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool third-culture kid: I’m Indian, grew up in Dubai, but attended a British-run school. My ancestors were Christ-followers in a country dominated by Hindus and Muslims. I didn’t feel at home anywhere.
But when I was eleven, I watched real journalism for the first time: CNN covering the first Gulf War. I knew then that I wanted to be an international correspondent, and I made it my life’s goal to become one. This identity rose above race and religion; it was vocation.
I got into journalism school in the States, and after graduating, I began working at CNN. My dream was on track — I was a working journalist! But a few years later, I married my college sweetheart, moved to Los Angeles from the news-mecca of New York, and for five long years, every employment door I knocked on stayed shut.
I was unmoored. If I wasn’t a journalist, who was I? A new Christian, I shook my fist at God. Why wake me up every morning if You won’t give me a purpose? Just take me home!
In many ways, I related to an onion: overlooked and stagnant in the darkness of the soil.
The kitchen became my solace. Here, I turned chaos into order, ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dishes. My husband and I launched a cooking variety show on YouTube called Aarti Paarti, and soon after, some friends suggested I audition for Food Network Star, a cooking competition that awarded the winner their own cooking show.
I knew I could cook a few things, but I wasn’t a chef. Until then, the shame from my journalism career ending had been private; I couldn’t bear America witnessing my inevitable failure as a cook too. But I submitted an audition anyway, hoping they’d say no.
Except they didn’t. Their yes ripped me out of the safety of the pitch black soil.
The first challenge on the show was to make 150 servings of a dish. The lights of the soundstage burned my eyes; sweat streaked my upper lip. The arena was populated by chefs trained in top kitchens and culinary schools. What am I doing here? I’m a dirt-splattered onion on a chopping block, I thought. With my heart in my mouth, I prayed, God, I can’t do this. Help.
I made Tandoori BBQ Chicken on Scallion Blinis, and to my utter surprise . . . I won! Astonished, I felt the papery skin of self-doubt begin to loosen at the root.
Each week, the challenges threatened to slice my onion-heart open and expose me as a fraud, but while chef after chef lost, I inexplicably remained. With every win, I felt the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9:
. . . My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.
As the competition heated up, the flames felt unbearable at times. But through it all, God was close, and His voice in my ears said, The only identity that matters is that you’re Mine. And even though I went on to win the show, understanding that truth felt like the biggest victory of all.
I read somewhere that sanctification is the closing of the gap between our identity and our behaviour. That process isn’t pretty, and it for sure isn’t painless. But here’s why it’s worth it: We don’t see all the potential God packed into each one of us. One of the benefits of being a child of God is that He’s intent on unleashing our full potential on the world!
Take for example, a raw onion. Take a bite, and you’d hardly describe it as sweet. But here’s the crazy thing: all the sugar you taste in a caramelized onion is there in the raw one! We just can’t taste it. Only heat can transform the onion’s large sugar molecules into the smaller ones our tastebuds can detect. And for French onion soup, you must slice the onion in a particular way — across her bow, slicing rainbow arcs that will melt into silky, sweet ribbons. Likewise, God knows how to slice and dice each of us to reveal those innermost parts of His glory.
Though our journeys are unique, one thing that unites us all is the refining fire. Just as onions release their moisture when they first hit the hot pan, God evaporated the misshapen molecules of my identity through the show: that my career was all that I was, that people’s opinions of me were paramount, that I had to earn His affection and attention. He replaced the lies with the truth that I am wonderfully made and that “ . . . he who began a good work in [me would] bring it to completion . . . ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
If you’re in the middle of the refining fire, don’t give up! Caramelization only happens at a whopping 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull the onions out of the frying pan too early, and they won’t reach their full potential. Our growth and sanctification can’t be skirted or hurried because each step is vital to the end result.
While I was named a Food Network star, I’m in no way a completed dish. I’m still simmering away on the stove, deepening in flavour. Every day, I trust God’s capable hands to build a dish out of this unpalatable, unremarkable allium that I am — to turn the raw, unpolished sting of my fallen heart into a tantalizing near-perfect bowl of soup, poured out for Him, declaring to all who draw near that there is nothing sweeter than being called a child of God.Leave a Comment