Half way through the PBS special on Japanese gardens, my roommate decided she needed a bonsai.
I silently recalled the catastrophic ends that had befallen her African violet, her salamander, and the stray cat we found outside the dorm.
Nevertheless, we spent the next afternoon perusing shelves of tiny, well-groomed trees at the street fair. OK, they aren't actually trees – as the elderly Japanese vendor explained. They're common types of vegetation kept small through constant, extensive pruning. Delighted by my friend's interest in his merchandise, the vendor shared his secrets for bonsai maintenance.
Repot plant often.
Wire branch to shape bonsai.
Then pinch off new growth.
And that was just the start. An hour later, he'd convinced me that bonsais aren't your basic houseplant. They're an artform.
Alas, my roommate was no artist. As exams and activities vied for her time, the tree deteriorated into a scraggly brown shrub. Guilt finally drove her back to the street vendor. Was there anything she could do to restore it to its original glory? As the man examined the sickly plant, he made no effort to mask his disgust. His bitter rebuke tumbled out like a broken haiku:
Is not bonsai
You can understand his frustration. After all, he'd sold my friend a handsome, perfect plant. He'd provided explicit instructions for care. But she'd neglected it. She'd let it become something it was never intended to be.
Sexuality is a lot like the bonsai. God's instructions are clear – enjoy it in marriage. But sexual purity is just one element of a much larger directive: Strive to live a holy life.
I think the concept of holiness confuses us, though. It evokes images of Mother Teresa or some long-dead saint. We envision an unattainable level of perfection. Some of us grew up believing that holiness just meant remaining abstinent until marriage. By simply avoiding intercourse (even if we did everything else we could think of), we'd circumvent the flames of hell.
But these common notions lack a key element: love. God didn't impart rules about sex to control or manipulate us. They were borne out of his passion for us. He knew we would crave intimate connection with others. That's why he created the gift of sex. He presented it fresh and vibrant and beautiful.
He desperately wants us to to keep it that way.
We can waste time resenting God's rules, or we can get out our clippers. Because maintaining a holy life requires a good deal of pruning.
Starting in the 17th century, Japan bonsai keepers began to redefine their art by minimizing. They set out to remove everything but what was essential to the health and beauty of the plant. We cultivate holiness in a similar fashion. The Bible urges us to make ourselves pure from everything that pollutes our bodies or spirits (II Corinthians 7:1). Here are some suggestions for doing that:
- Be modest. What's your first thought when you see a young woman strutting down the street in high heels, short skirt and tight crop top? Like it or not, our appearance sends off vibes to people about who we are and what we believe. If you're attempting to live a holy life, make sure your appearance isn't suggesting otherwise and inviting trouble.
- Maintain a pure brain. Living a holy life is more than refraining from sex outside of marriage. Single and married people do well to avoid sex-charged music, TV, movies and magazines – anything that objectifies people rather than affording human beings the respect and dignity they deserve.
- Date like-minded people. Sure, he's cute and funny and smart – but does he share your goal of holiness? Being on the same page with a boy or girlfriend about sexual purity doesn't guarantee you'll always do the right thing. But with similar standards, you can work as a team to make wise choices.
- Keep a clear head. Drugs, alcohol, or any other mind-altering substance will only break down your resistance in an already-compromising situation. We exponentially increase our chances of doing something we'll regret when we're not clean and sober. Be awake and alert so that your decisions will be your own.
- Tell yourself the truth. You know your weaknesses, the things that tempt you most, the conditions that put you at greatest risk for making a bad decision. Whether or not it seems silly to someone else, do whatever it takes to avoid putting yourself in those situations.
- Stay in touch with God. When our conscience jabs at us for doing something we know isn't best, the last thing we want to read, hear or talk about is God. We have to remember that he's not the enemy. He's the bonsai master. He's the one that gave us the gift of sex, and he knows the best way to use it.