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.
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?