Have you ever seen a beautiful example of bonsai? All my life, I’ve been drawn to tiny pots holding miniature trees that have been trained to grow ever so gracefully into living art. They bring me joy and, having seen them so many times, I thought I knew bonsai.
But now I know a bonsai artist. He posts pictures of his ongoing projects on Facebook, and through him I have learned so much more – including just how much I don’t know about the art. First, bonsai comes in all shapes and sizes from the tiny trees I’ve seen to trees so tall he needs help to move them. Second, he doesn’t generally start with nursery-perfect trees, but rather goes out on his own to find truly interesting specimens that show promise of greatness…at least to his trained eye. Then comes the real work.
Focused on producing the ideal product, he begins by selecting just the right the pot. After settling the tree’s roots in its new home, he sets it aside, letting it sit there and grow. He does nothing but nurture it until he knows its roots are established and it is healthy. Then, and only then, does he begin the careful and entirely deliberate pruning process.
I don’t know what goes on inside his head, but I do know that each move he makes is deliberate. He removes branches that are unhealthy or don’t belong in the final design, pieces that get in the way of the special beauty he wants to reveal. Then, having done this, he pulls out his wire and wraps those branches with it so he can ever so gently train them to grow exactly as he sees them in his mind’s eye.
It was a revelation when I saw it. Bonsai isn’t those tiny trees I’ve always admired; it’s careful, thoughtful, pruning and training.
So is Christianity – our development as Christians. When we’re born again, God repots us, putting us in a place where our roots can settle and we can grow strong. Unlike the bonsai trees, we have it within our power to move from this place, but if we’re wise we choose to remain.
Having repotted us and given us time to grow, once He judges that we are settled in, strong, and health enough, He begins a very deliberate pruning process. This is when life gets challenging and exciting all at the same time. Some things we exult in. When He delivers us from addictions that have plagued us, we feel suddenly free. When He gently removes things that have been blinding us, freeing us to truly see Him, we rejoice. Other changes He makes are more painful. We may not want to leave behind things like dangerous friends, bad habits, etc., but if we do…
If we trust His vision, that He sees clearly the promise within us and has a plan for making us beautiful, we submit to the pruning.
Then comes the next step. Having pruned away the deadwood and offensive branches, He pulls out His wire and begins to shape us. Patiently, gently, He nudges us to learn to show love, to be forgiving, to walk in integrity, to be faithful… He helps us learn to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives and, in general, to grow to look like Him. I have this image in my mind of Him sometimes sitting back, like my bonsai artist friend, and smiling softly in satisfaction as we begin to truly take shape.
Bonsai is a slow art, one that requires mind-blowing patience on the part of the artist as his pieces take years to develop. Our growth as Christians is the same. I thank God that His mercy, grace, and patience with me are new every morning.
Image copyright Dale Brock – All Rights Reserved