Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bonsai, double-edged swords and ministry

It's been a few days since I have done anything productive on the internet. I've been in a bit of a "communication black-out" for a bit. I've experienced a wide variety of emotions lately, and it has left me feeling drained and lifeless. Usually when I feel like this I shut-down and try to distract and numb myself until I am able to deal with things again. Granted, I did a bit of that lately, but I also decided that I should share some of my thoughts here.

I have been realizing many things from some recent conversations with various friends. One is, it is very difficult for me to share my life here in Japan with people in America. There's this feeling that no one there can understand what it's like here, so it's best if I don't even try. I guess that's a lie from Satan trying to make me isolate myself. It's not fair to the people who care about me, and it deprives me of much needed prayers. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better. But, as I'm sure most people know, communication is not my strong suit. Please feel free to ask me questions. It's hard to know what to tell people, or what they are interested in. And forgive me if I can't answer right away. One, I really am busy most of the time. And two, it takes a lot of emotional energy for me to communicate. I'm trying to get better, I really am.

Another revelation is what it means to do ministry in Japan. I shared this analogy with some people, and I'd like to share it again here.

Last year for my birthday my good friend gave me a bonsai tree. Now, I am terrible with plants. They don't talk, they don't move, they don't let me know when they need something, so they are very easy to forget about and let die. (this is why I prefer dogs, cats and small children. They let you know when they need something, not to mention they are interesting and entertaining. Also explains why I'm not so fond of fish or birds.) So this wouldn't seem like the best gift to give me. (Especially considering that this friend of mine loves bonsai, and she had grown this tree from a seed herself. It's like taking care of one of her children.) But I had shared with her before that I thought I really needed to learn more about perserverence. I am not a patient person at all when it comes to anything long term. So especially in my prayers, when I want to pray for Japan and the people I love here, it's easy to quit when I don't see results right away. So I decided I needed something more to teach me about perservering. The ideal solution seemed to be bonsai. Needs patience, a symbol of Japan, not something I'm good at. So my friend graciously gave me one of her precious tress for this "lesson."

Well my birthday is in October, so this is fall. Most plants don't grow much in fall, and this tiny pine tree was no exception. In fact, it didn't do much of anything for a little while. And then, the needles seemed to get darker, and some died off. I was worried for a while about the little thing, but I kept watering it. All winter I was rather worried about the poor little tree. Nothing seemed to change it's condition, and I was wondering if it was dead. Then my friend wrote about the condition of her tree on her blog. For the first time I knew what kind of tree I had. And it inspired me to look up information on the internet about this tree. I found some very interesting information. It told me things like you shouldn't do anything to the tree other than water it for two years. Then you can start slowly wiring it and changing it's shape. You can also cut and prune it little by little. But you should be careful, because all these things are injuries to the tree. You have to make sure to give it time to heal etc. And all the while, you must continue to give it water.

Suddenly, I had hope once again for my little tree. And sure enough this spring I was rewarded with new growth. This of course made me think about my life here in Japan. For the first two years or so I felt the same. I was "watering" my relationships with people, but not much seemed to be happening. I was wondering if I was doing enough, or even anything productive. Believe me "watering" is not a glamorous job. Many times I doubted if my ministry was even "alive." (it's interesting to note that I also arrived in Japan in fall/winter) After my second year, I began to see "green" in my relationships. Suddenly my Japanese was good enough to take relationships to the next step. I could see the growth and it was encouraging. But of course spring doesn't last forever. There is a time to grow, a time to cut, a time to wait, but through it all, you must water. You have to keep investing in the relationships, being present, praying, etc. and above all keep the faith that spring will come again. This is the part where I get the most discouraged.

I look at what I do, and wonder "Is it enough? Am I really doing anything here?" It's hard to see results here. I can get excited about small things, but they never seem to grow into big ones. I can be please with the growth of my Japanese ability, only to be frustrated by all the things I still can't understand or do. I can rejoice when my students react well in a Bible study but mourn when none of them seem any closer than before to accepting Jesus. Or be happy with a well done event, but wondering if they actually touch anyone. Most of the time I am happy and satisfied with my life here. I love the people here. I have no desire to return to life in America. Or anywhere else for that matter. I love Japan.

But I'm at one of those points again where I can't see any change, any movement. I get frustrated with my life of routine. I become discouraged to realize that I am alone. I'm 28 and single. Usually I'm ok with this, but sometimes I wonder what's wrong with me. I worry about money. I wish I didn't have to worry about money, about the prospect of spending the next 20 years of my life paying school loans. Worrying about my parents worrying about my money. Wondering what's going to happen in my future. Will I have a meaningful job? Will I have a family? Will I find myself single the rest of my life? Will I ever grow up? I both desire change and fear it. You see, I'm a bonsai too. I grow slowly and my roots are fragile. Sometimes I wonder if my heart is even still alive.

This is when God graciously shows me the bigger picture. He shows me His faithfulness. I trust in God. I believe that He is good. So even when I can't see results, I must keep moving forward, keep "watering" because I believe eventually spring will come again. I've come to realize that ministry, and even loving God, is like a double-edged sword. I can change the world around me with God's help, but in the process I am also changed. And because God is gracious, the process is slow.

I remember reading in one of my classes about God talking to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised land. He promised them that He would defeat all their enemies, but He was going to do it slowly, so that the land would not become completely desolate in the process. God has the power to change everything at once. But He doesn't do that very often. He understands the needs of growing and changing. Give time to heal, time to be changed, time to rest, time to wait. These are all important things. God loves us. He loves Japan, more than I do. He loves me. And He is way smarter than any of us can imagine. His way is best. So it's times like this that I have to remember this. I have to remember, gather my perserverence, and pick up my watering can again. It's quite possible I'll be watering for the rest of my life. And I may never see the results of my watering. But I trust that God is working. This is the only truth that keeps me through the long times.

I know I'm just a little baby bonsai tree right now. But maybe, after a lifetime of watering, I'll become a beautiful, valuable bonsai that God delights in. I'm glad God's a better gardener than I am. Please pray for me as I water and am watered in this place. I appreciate your prayers and support so much.


Betsy said...

Wow, that blog was so encouraging. I have almost the exact same thoughts and fears about my own life. Thank you for sharing your insight.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your site while looking for the blog of friend of a friend.

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised: they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance...These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:13, 39-40

An excerpt from Beth Moore's Bible study, The Patriarchs: "Abraham may never have been quite sure he actually fulfilled his destiny... We too often spiritualize the people God used mightily in His Word. As a result, we shrink back from our own callings. We picture New Testament people such as John, Peter and Paul as spiritual giants who felt like spiritual giants...I'm far more likely to picture them as insecure and unsure, scrambling at times to figure out what they were supposed to do next and wondering all the while if they were getting anything right. How amazed each of them must have been to realize in Heaven that they - former flesh and blood, weak in their natural selves - had fulfilled their callings faithfully enough to receive a "Well done!"... God is gloriously faithful, even if at times He seems distant... How wise He is to hide our eyes at times from the full-range ramifications of our obedience! Who can stand an athlete or a talent once he highly esteems his own contribution? God's way is right. We are to boast in Him alone and leave the bragging on any human contribution to Him." (p.98)

Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time there will be a harvest. :)

A sister in Christ