A Giving Tree
This past week I was in my home state of South Carolina. Although our state flower is the palm tree, I’m partial to the Angel Oak, mythic in size and elegantly adorned in a crocheted cape of silvery moss. Driving the familiar old road from Charleston to the isle of Kiawah, one cannot help but fall under these tree’s spell. I was reminded of one of the classics from my childhood, The Giving Tree, by Shell Silverstein.
The story begins with a regal tree and a little boy. It is a relationship of unconditional love from the start. In the beginning the boy comes to the tree to climb and swing in her branches with the innocence and glee that only a child can possess. The Tree is happy. For she loves the boy even more than she loves herself. As the years pass, the boy grows up. In an effort to find his way in the world, the boy makes mistakes, loses his way, experiences both the joys and the disappointments inherent to life’s journey. The boy returns to his evergreen friend in his greatest need. And the Tree is happy. First, she gladly offers him all of her apples to sell for money. Next, it is her branches that she freely gives the boy so he can build himself a house. And then the day comes, where she willingly sacrifices all that she is and allows the boy to cut her down to a stump to build a boat. Through all of this—-The Tree is happy.
Imagine if we lived in a world where everyone loved like the “Giving Tree.” A world where we gave away the coat off our own back, set a place at our family table for the ugly, the outcast, and the forgotten, doled out mercy instead of judgment, preached hope to the hopeless, and spent our lives searching the world over for the darkest corner so we could light a lamp?
But that would mean that we would have to think of someone else’s needs before our own. Instead of living our lives bent on personal achievement, the accumulation of material possessions and trophies, and personal security, we would choose the less-traveled path of the saints. Suddenly, we would experience that mystical glow that comes to those who are selfless and our lives would be imbued with meaning.
When I read The Giving Tree today, I think of Jesus. For thirty-three years he gave us all that he had—wisdom, healing, compassion, forgiveness, hope, tears, flesh, bone, and heart. Like the Giving Tree, even when Jesus appeared to have nothing more to give, strung up on a cross, with only mere breaths left to his name, he still found a way to give more. In the most fragile and frightening moments of his humanity, he continued to forgive, reassure, love, and point us in the direction of heaven. Even death could not thwart his desire to love us. Easter morning arrived and with it his greatest gift ever, the incomprehensible——the promise of eternal life.
Where Jesus dared to love indiscriminately and with reckless abandon, because of fear, we love selectively and within safe boundaries.
Let’s be honest, we can be stingy with our love. We so often give to our marriages, our friendships, our church, our world——just enough. We’ll give a couple of our apples here and there for good measure, write the check to charity, do a kind deed in our marriages and friendships to keep them afloat, but only just enough.
As I write these words, just enough, I know it to be so intimately true. I could just kick a tree for all the times I missed the opportunity to be generous with my words, my deeds—with my Love.
We live in a world that preaches the survival of the fittest. Protect your own interests first and at whatever costs. Never show your hand. Only fools give away all of their apples. Who in their right mind would willingly sacrifice their own comfortable life, so that another (like the hungry child that lives only five miles down the road would have more than one meal a day—Might actually get the chance to prevail in this world?)
To fully understand why God kissed us into being we must have the courage to love beyond ourselves–Become a Giving Tree.
At the end of The Giving Tree, what was once a beautiful tree was now nothing more than a stump.
And She was happy.
Are we happy?
Live in Hope,