Have you ever read the book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?
It is a children’s picture book, first published in 1964 that depicts a life-long relationship between a little boy and a tree.
I don’t ever recall reading this book as a child and I have no idea why one morning this past week, I woke with the words “The Giving Tree” on my mind.
I actually had to look it up on-line to silence the mantra playing in my head.
The story is pretty intriguing for a children's book, as you could interpret the relationship between the two characters as either positive (selfless love of the tree) or negative (ungrateful or even abusive behavior of the boy.)
If you’ve never read the story, see for yourself--
This story haunted me until I finally came to the conclusion that for me this isn’t a simple tale of a boy and a tree, rather a story that reflects our very relationship with God!
God is the tree --
We are the boy --
Like the boy- we are masterful TAKERS and often don’t stop long enough to see the damage that we cause in our pursuit of our own happiness.
We arrogantly believe the very purpose of our existence is simply to “be happy.” (Whatever the cost!)
What I find so compelling is that the tree never asks for anything other than for the boy to be in its presence, to climb its branches and play in its foliage.
The tree never faults, blames or shames the boy. Nor does the tree hold bitterness or grudges.
The tree is willing time and time again….to give and give and give.
And time and time again ….the boy only takes and takes and takes.
Until the boy comes to the end of his life and the only thing he has left is his ability to physically be present. Once again, the tree offers the only thing it has remaining – itself.
The story ends with a silhouette of a feeble old man sitting upon a sad little stump.
The story of a giver and a taker.
So, the boy spent his entire life pursuing things of temporal value and essentially neglected the one thing that provided lasting worth- REAL LOVE.
I don’t like the boy in the story very much. Do you?
I wonder, if we would closely examine ourselves, what would we see?
Would we see the reflection reminiscent of the boy- the reflection of a taker or would it be a reflection of the tree- a giver?
How often do we ignore God?
How much time a day do we even devote to spending with Him?
How often do we only seek God when times are bad?
How often do we come into His presence when we need something?
How often do we blindly put ourselves above others?
How often do we make excuses when faced with doing something for others? Not enough time, not enough money, simply don’t feel like it….. the list goes on and on…
Don’t we really believe that we can simply live our entire lives trying to make ourselves happy and if/when we decide to finally turn our true attentions to God he will simply be there ready- with arms open wide?
It truly is shameful that (for the most part) we are so single-minded and self-centered. At least I certainly can be when the time feels right!
Left unchecked we make ourselves the very center of our own universe (even to the peril of our relationship with our Creator!) Left unchecked many of us not only take advantage of God's generosity but the generosity of others. Without a second thought!
I believe God recognized this in our nature as His greatest commandment cuts to the heart of our selfishness:
In Matthew 22:36-39, Jesus is directly questioned about the greatest commandment:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Nowhere in this commandment do we hear anything about ourselves. We certainly don’t hear that the goal in life is to win the lottery, travel around the world and live the lifestyle of the rich and famous! Doing whatever we please to our own hearts' desires.
Nowhere do we hear that the purpose and goal of our life is to make ourselves happy.
Instead we hear that the very essence to living life well is to --
1. Passionately SEEK GOD with everything we’ve got.
2. LOVE OTHERS just like we love ourselves.
So, love God and love others just as well as you love yourself!
Wow, there sure would be a whole lott’a-loving going on if we all practiced this commandment!
What this says to me is that we were designed to be in a relationship with God FIRST and then with others; that our lives should be spent in the pursuit of loving God and trying to put others first. Now don't misunderstand, I do not believe this should be done to the detriment of ourselves wherein we allow people to take advantage and we give and give until all that is left of us is a stump!
Simply, God loved us first- all we have to do is sincerely love him back and the rest will naturally fall into place!
So, instead of pursuing our own selfish endeavors we should:
Crave to spend time with God and make it a priority!
Seek ways to be generous to others with our time and resources.
Tithe in abundance to God’s church. (Malachi 3:8-10)
Be extravagant in this lifetime in the things that matter most!
What I find so ironic are the times I’ve actually practiced this commandment are the very times I have experienced the most joy and blessings in my life! The times that I’ve actually been my happiest!
I don’t want to come to the end of my life, a tiny feeble old woman who spent her whole life simply trying to make herself happy.
But, I don't want to come to the end of my life abused by those around me and left a shallow little stump.
I don’t want to be filled with regrets that I wasted my life chasing things that wither and fade.
I certainly don’t want to return to my maker one day ashamed that He gave so much and all I did in this lifetime was take and abuse His generosity!
I have to wonder… did the boy ever stop and ponder any of these things before it was too late?
Father, I ask for your forgiveness for all the times that we’ve been habitual takers, for putting ourselves before you and others. Lord, replace in us a desire to follow your greatest commandment to seek you first and to love others above ourselves. Help us Lord to always be grateful for your generosity and to be a reflection of your love to others. Also, help us Lord to have balance and know when it truly is the right time to be a generous giver without being taken advantage of or abused. Thank you Father for your unfailing, unconditional love and for loving us first!
“But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. “ -Psalm 52:8