Focus on the Family

Sex and the Art of Bonsai

Bonsai keepers remove everything but what is essential to the plant. We cultivate holiness in a similar fashion.

by Carolyn MacInnes

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:

THAT
Is not bonsai
Anymore.

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 us 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: