Why I Bonsai

People often ask me about my hobby of doing Bonsai. What got you interested? Why do you do it? There are a couple of reasons that all merged together one day several years ago.

First of all there is the plane fact that Bonsai trees are flat-out amazing. When you see a three-foot tall pine tree that under normal circumstances would tower 60 feet over your head, who doesn’t stand in a little bit of awe. So ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by the science and the beauty of Bonsai.

Second, as I was doing a year-end inventory of my life and character I really sensed that one of the things I needed to work on was patience combined with perseverance. By that I mean that willingness to wait on something that would a long time and the drive to stick with it for years if need be. I have had far too many 80% finished and sensed that the next step God wanted me to take in the development of my character could be learned through Bonsai. It actually fits far better than I ever imagined. One of the things I have learned about Bonsai is that no tree is ever finished till it is dead. Now I have “finished” several trees, especially in the early days. At one point my wife asked if I was growing trees or collecting empty pots. She asked this as she looked at the collection of a half-dozen pots, that sat like ceramic grave stones, in honor of the trees that once lived in them. But once I learned to keep them alive and thriving it became apparent that you never finish with a Bonsai. It is always growing till it dies.

That idea, that you are never finished with it, it is always growing till it dies, is one of the many lessons of the Christian walk that I have seen paralleled in growing my trees. As a follower of Jesus, I will never be a finished product until the day the Lord calls me home and completes the transformation of my character in one dazzling moment. Any Christian who is not regularly working on his or her growth in Christ does not understand that in this life we are never a finished product. We are always being pruned and shaped by the Lord.

Another aspect of Bonsai that I find wonderful is that you can Bonsai any type of tree. Lots of people think that Bonsai is a particular type of plant. They think of a pine or juniper and The Karate Kid snipping a piece of one of Mr. Miagi’s trees. The fact is, Bonsai is the art of making a tree small enough to grow in a pot. Bonsai literally means, “tree tray” or tree in a tray or pot. So I have pines. junipers, Ficus, azalea’s, elms, boxwood, and holly trees all of which have been “bonsaid” and are growing in pots on even on slabs of marble. That brings up another lesson in faith. There is no one single picture of what I Christian is. There is amazing variety in the material that God works with. Christians come in all sorts of colors, ethnic and language groups and from every conceivable culture.

This is usually a 40 foot tree. It is about 3 ft now and planning on getting smaller

The Chinese Elm to the left is usually a 40-60 foot tree. It is about 30 inches tall and I    may even make it a bit shorter. It loves colder climates and drops all it’s leaves in the    winter. Six weeks ago it looked like a dead stick. With Spring arriving I have to trim the  leaves back every week.

The landscape to the right is a group of Ficus. It stays green year round and when we get a frost I have to bring it inside. The marble slab that it sits on is about three feet wide.

This is my newest project. It is a holly that I dug out of our yard after working with it from   time to time for about three years. Eventually it will move out of the training pot and into     a shallow ceramic Japanese pot. I love the windswept look and plan to make it even more   dramatic.

What should be the same about all Christians and is true of all Bonsai, is that ideally  they look like smaller replicas of the original. The ultimate goal for me when someone  looks at one of my trees is not that they say, “oh a Bonsai”, but that they say, “that looks  just like a real tree”. The ultimate goal for me when someone looks at  my life as a  Christian is not that the say, “oh a Christian”, but that they say, “that looks  just like  Jesus”

When I cut a branch off a tree, or wire the trunk to move in a certain direction, or cut off a  bunch of leaves, it always has the purpose of conforming that tree into the ideal, full-grown, mature tree. Paul says in Romans 8:29 that we are being conformed into the  image  of Christ. That is  the reason for the struggles, hardships and joys we have. It is to  make  us more like Jesus. When the Lord cuts something out of your life, when he forces you to grow in a certain direction, when he cuts a bunch of unnecessary decoration from your life, it is always with one goal in mind. It is to conform you to the ideal of a full- grown, mature follower of Christ. One who people will look at and say, “that looks just like Jesus”.

7 thoughts on “Why I Bonsai

  1. Dan,

    This was a truly exceptional read. I have been one if those people who wondered about your work with Bonsai — how you got started, why you live it — and I really appreciated the chance to get to know your story more here.

    I also am encouraged by all the parallels you find in the Christian faith! Wow. Those are all so true. I was especially moved by the hope that people will look at our lives and say, “Ih, that looks like Jesus.” Amen! That is my great hope too.

    I had no idea you could Bonsai any kind if tree or that the could grow assets as they do. This might sound like a dumb question, but how do they grow so large without roots?

  2. Dan Lacich

    Thanks for the comments and I am glad you were encouraged.

    Another part of Bonsai I did not mention is that the best way to do it is take a tree that is already large and growing and cut it back, including the roots. So you take a fifteen foot tree with a six inch trunk and you cut it about three feet from the ground, dig out the root ball and move it to a large training pot. Now you have a mature trunk and a 5 year project to get it to grow back branches. People think you do this from a seed. That takes waaaayyy toooo long.


  3. Jim Ludwig

    Thanks. I needed a little lesson for a Senior independent living area (Stonebrook) where your old church (North Park) does a church service at 2:00pm on Sundays. That will be the basis for my little meditation. I do not do bonsai or even sell them in my flower shop, but I do have a jade plant and crown of thorns (euphorbia) that are about 35+ years old. I got them during our first year or two of marriage. In both cases they are actually cuttings from the original plant (I suppose there is a faith lesson there also) but the jade plant has a big thick trunk. I have a gardenia plant that is probably 20+ years old and lived through a couple of battles with spider mite and or mealy bug. Once we cut off all the leaves back to just the thick trunk and got rid of all the invading mealy bug. In about two years it was filled out and bearing fruit (blooms) again. Jim L

  4. Dan Lacich

    Glad to hear from you and that you can use this for sharing Jesus with others. Sounds like the Gardenia is a bonsai without trying. I know lots of folks who do jade bonsai as well. Would love to see pics

  5. Yvette

    Wonderful way of seeing it and I totally agree….in the end we should all look like Him. My partner also a bonzai guy and within a year has almost 30 trees in different stages. He spends every evening and weekends nurturing and training them. Regards from Bloemfontein, South Africa

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