Categories: Faith, Learning lessons



As I shared last month, I learned that “bonsai” refers to a type of tree training and not to a type of tree as I had thought. Any tree can be a bonsai, which is interesting in and of itself but there was more the bonsai has to offer us. Every sign in the bonsai exhibit at the Denver Botanic Garden has in the upper left hand corner: in training since and then a year.



I’ll be honest and to my untrained eye, I can’t tell much difference between those in training since 2011 and 1980. They look similar to me. But isn’t that a helpful phrase when it comes to people? In a sense, aren’t we all in training? And within ourselves we might have different dates. I may have been in training for China since 1990, but I’ve only been in training for the death of a parent for months.

Here’s the thing about how a bonsai tree is trained, their roots are trimmed and the leaves and branches are trimmed. Oh the implications!

1. There is obvious, above ground training and less obvious, though probably more disturbing, training going on below the surface.

2. Both root and limb trimming are necessary to be in training.

3. Training requires outside involvement, a bonsai tree cannot trim itself.

4. Training isn’t a “once and done”  activity.

If Japan had been the location for ancient Israel, I’m fairly certain Jesus would have used the bonsai in one of his parables. Pointing out first to we are all in training, none of us have arrived. Training, like maturing, is a process, not a product. The language of “in training” isn’t meant to be an excuse to sin more or license to be a jerk … “hey, I’m just in training and you annoyed me, so I thought I’d share my annoyance!” Instead it’s a reminder when we blow it, to offer ourselves to the Great Gardener again and ask for his help. To know that when we aren’t perfect, perfection isn’t the goal this side of heaven, growth is.

bonsai two

As much as I need these lessons for myself, I have found they are helpful as I interact with others in training. Wouldn’t it be make a difference if we all had neon signs over our heads that flashed “in training!” Most people aren’t trying to be the worst version of themselves, they are just doing the best they can with whatever life is throwing at them.

Right now I have two friends with death being thrown at them. One of a 28 co-worker and one of her dad. I have Chinese friends ending their time in the US and preparing to re-enter their home culture changed in ways they don’t fully know yet. I have friends celebrating birthdays with life not being the way they had envisioned it.

And you have folks in your life too in training. You are in training yourself! The beauty and hope of being in training is the vision and version of what is to come to life in us, the skills and character traits, the ways in which we will reflect God more accurately and with greater compassion.

Don’t you love how much one plant has to offer!

Is the phrase in training helpful? Where can you see training in yourself or others around you?

Leave A Comment

  1. Emily thomas June 24, 2014 at 6:01 am - Reply

    Love that phrase because it allows me to take off a lot of the pressure I pile on myself needlessly. Thanks, Amy!

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      Amy June 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm - Reply

      Yes to taking the pressure off — I think if we are living engaged lives, growth opportunities are going to find us :). And if we blow them, we don’t need to berate ourselves!

  2. Mike June 24, 2014 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Amy, I really like this post. Not only does the idea of the Great Gardener really resonate with me, but I’ve loved working with bonsai from before I was married, and at various times in my life I’ve trained a few. In fact, one that I was training back in the 80’s is still thriving, under the watchful care of a long-time friend of mine.

    The idea of the Great Gardener resonates with me because, yes, I definitely feel like I’m in training, and I feel like recently there’s been some pretty serious root pruning going on, stuff that other people can’t see but I’m definitely aware of! And yes, it’s painful (in more ways than just physically!), but it’s good because his hand is in it.

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      Amy June 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      Mike! Why does it not surprise me that you’ve been a … is the word “bonsai-er?” How cool that you’ve got one from the 80’s!

      And yes, I don’t mean to romanticize the pain of training, but we can trust that the pain will result in our good!

  3. Sarah S June 24, 2014 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Thanks for this reminder Amy. I think it’s helpful to recognize that I am in training but, most of all, I need to remember that the Great Gardener is training others too. I need to remember this when my patience is strained and my kindness wavers. The Great Gardener is working in ways I can not see. It’s not up to me to prune my neighbor, coworker, or friend. It is up to me to practice patience, kindness, forgiveness, trust, hope, perseverance, and loving others as my self.

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      Amy June 26, 2014 at 9:04 am - Reply

      Sarah, your comment struck a chord with me! Oh how easy it is for me to want to point out to others, “hey, you could use a little pruning over here …” Thanks for these thoughts!

  4. Mark Allman June 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    At times I resist the training. I don’t want to be pruned or cut. I want to be left alone. I think I have to work on an attitude of being willing to be in that constant state of training; of submitting to being honed for the better.

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      Amy June 26, 2014 at 9:05 am - Reply

      Mark, you are so good at saying the deeper truth! Like you, I get tired of always being in process :) … and more often that I’d like, I just want to be left alone! Thanks friend.

  5. David Rupert June 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    I didnt know that you could make any tree a bonsai. Can you fix my wild hair? I guess with constant trimming I would be presentable. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time.” But it is totally necessary.

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      Amy June 26, 2014 at 9:08 am - Reply

      I had thoughts of Edward Scissorhands when I saw this comment :) … and yes to the necessity of “training” and discipline. Actually, I think there will still be some aspects of it in heaven, though it’s hard to picture what training will be like without sin (since this state is all we/I know so far)

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