One of my favorite books is, in fact, a children’s book by Shel Silverstein titled The Giving Tree. Several of you that know me would say I like it because it is short since I’m not much of reader. But I have recently read it again and remembered exactly why I love the story. It is a simple one with a simple message – to truly love is to joyfully give completely of yourself.
If you are not familiar with the book, here’s a quick summary: it is about a tree that loves a little boy. And while the boy is young he climbs her trunk, eats her apples and swings from her branches. But as he grows up he spends less and less time with the tree and seems to only show up when he needs something. As a teenager he needs money to buy things, so the tree offers him her apples to sell. Years later, he comes to tell the tree he wants a house and she lets him cut her branches to build a house. Even later he visits and says he wants a boat to take him far away – she offers her trunk to make a boat. And finally as an old man he comes again. The tree feels she has nothing left to give because now she is only a stump. He then says he is tired and simply needs a place to rest. The tree finds she has one last thing to give and offers herself as a place for him to sit and rest.
The tree manages to always meet the boy’s needs by giving a piece of herself each time until she is literally left with nothing.
What is so striking to me about this story though is that at every “giving” moment, the author, Mr. Silverstein, made a point to write the following words: “And the tree was happy.”
The tree showed the ability to give completely and with no expectation of receiving anything in return. In fact, she was most happy and filled with joy when helping the boy. How incredible is that? To feel complete satisfaction by simply helping another.
I think that alone is the powerful message that Mr. Silverstein was trying to convey through this simple, lovely story.
If the tree were real and this was a true story, if asked whether she felt she had been left with nothing she would probably say no. Her reply would most likely be that she had received 10-fold what she had given. That by sharing herself and physically depleting her resources, she found fulfillment both emotionally and spiritually. Her “cup runneth over” Psalm 23:5.
Can you imagine what the world could be like if everyone could give as the tree gave – wholly and completely, unselfishly and genuinely. I know that’s an idealistic statement.
Because I know that I struggle with selfish tendencies. I often feel that life is a 50/50 deal where the give and take should balance out. But then I also find that the deal can lead me to disappointment and the need for something more. Which brings me back to this story. If I can find it in my heart to give freely and openly until I feel I can give nothing more, will I experience true joy and happiness? My gut feeling is telling me yes. Now I just need to start.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Sir Winston Churchill