One of my favorite books is The Giving Tree by Shell Silverstien. I give it to people as a gift regularly. It’s a great story about a tree and a little boy. The story encapsulates years and, over the years, the tree offers everything she has to the boy. The story starts when the boy is young and as the boy grows up he continues to return to the tree and the tree continues to offer all she has to him. The tree loves the boy. She gives him apples to eat, branches to swing on and even her trunk when he needs it.
I have read lots of ideas and perspectives from different people on this meaning of this book. Some see the boy as a selfish boy; some see the tree as a loving tree. Some see the tree as passive and some the tree as radically generous. For quite a few years I looked at the story of The Giving Tree like this: The boy kept returning as he grew up and each time he came back to the loving tree he just took. The tree had so much to give out of love and she just gave and gave until she had nothing left to give to anyone else and because she continued to give everything away she became a stump, with nothing left to give to others.
There have been times I have identified myself with the stump: Times when all my apples, branches, and even my trunk have been taken. Sometimes I show up trying to give all I have to help others find healing and true happiness. And they take and take and take. Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt cut down with nothing left to give to others?
If you’re familiar with the story you might know at the end of each outpouring of the tree giving it says, “The tree was happy.” The tree was happy after she gave her apples, branches, trunk, and her stump. I think I looked at it all wrong all of these years. In the past, there have people who have taken advantage of my generosity. People only wanting more, taking and not giving anything in return. When this happens I often related it to this story. I gave so much over and over especially to one person it quickly made me into the stump. I didn’t want to be a stump anymore because I felt like those who took advantage of my generosity left no apples for others who had the ability to appreciate the gesture and the fruit I had to offer. This could limit my generosity for sure.
But if I shift my emphasis just a touch and really look at this not focusing on the stump, I saw the tree was happy. Sure the boy could have been more grateful; he could have left something for someone else.
Nevertheless, the tree was happy to sacrifice.
The truth is I, too, felt happy to sacrifice and the beauty is I don’t feel like a stump anymore. I focus on the giving not the taking.
In the same way, look at all the people God sacrificed for. He gave his only son’s life and made the most ultimate sacrifice and for what? He sacrificed his son so we can all be forgiven. If we are to become more like Christ we at times must give the ultimate sacrifice to forgive as well and yes sometimes when we give this undeserved radical sacrificial generosity, we could see it like we are the stump. In reality, the tree trunk had been sacrificed for the boy, now a stump actually provided a seat for an old man to rest. When the tree thought he had nothing left to offer, he still did.
The discovery for me: Happiness can be found offering all I have left.
Because of Jesus I get to give and also be forgiven and in the end become more like him. The great part is I am always growing and soon I know even after someone has taken the last of my fruit, I will always have more apples to give, branches to share and a trunk to chop down to provide for someone who needs it.
You may feel as if you’re a stump. Maybe you gave all of your apples to someone in hopes of helping them only to be taken advantage of. Maybe you have been holding onto forgiveness for those who have raided your trees. Make a decision to sacrifice and when it seems your sacrifice brought you pain or just doesn’t feel worth it, think about the tree not the boy.
With each sacrifice of forgiveness I can and will be happy. The tree was happy and so am I.