November 26, 2009
Not Just Thanks, but Giving... Anything and Everything
by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Senior Editor
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
My children, ages six and four, know my weakness.
They know it's not ice cream, baseball, or their mom's chili... or even a hug or puppy-dog eyes from them.
See, none of the above make me cry (although the chili almost did once). Yes, my children have seen their father cry. It's not something I wanted, or intended. I'm a man, after all. I go to work, show my strength. I coach, help, show, point, and guide. I communicate, discipline, and lead. I pray. I do not cry.
...Except when I read Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, that is.
And like I said, my children know this. And oh, do they twist that knife, the little devils. We must own a couple hundred children's books, but if it's a night where Daddy is doing the bedtime reading rather than Mommy, what do they invariangly pick (while smirking)? Of course! The Giving Tree!
I've been reading this book, first published in 1964, since I myself was a child, and no matter how many times I do, I am unable to de-sensitize. I mean, when I watch the movie Field of Dreams and Ray has a catch with his ghost-dad, that gets me. But if I see the scene over and over within a certain time frame? Nah. No sweat, no tears. But this blasted children's book... well... what's going on here?
First of all, you're probably wondering that very thing if you aren't familiar with the story. A tree and a boy are the best of friends during an idyllic childhood for the young man where he eats apples from the tree, climbs her trunk, swings from her branches, and rests in her shade. Then things change, as things do, and we see the boy approach the tree at all the various stages of his life, caught up - understandably, even - more in wanting and needing than in just being. Every time he has a "need," the tree obliges... and is happy for having done so. She doesn't have much, but gives all she has until eventually, she is nothing but a stump. At the end of all things, however, it turns out a stump is just what the old man needs - a quiet place to sit down and rest and reflect. "And the tree was happy. The end."
And I am undone... again.
Is it because I am reading the story to my children, and I know our stories will be very much like that of the tree and the boy, where they are my delight but eventually I must simply become provider as they go out into the world? Yes and no.
Is it because our family copy of the book - the one I read to the kids - carries an inscription from my wife on our first Christmas as husband and wife that says, "With God's help, may I love you like this"? Yes and no.
Is it because I once read the book aloud at at emotional family Thanksgiving, illustrating how we too infrequently practice the "giving" half of the word? Yes and no.
Is it because as my father lay dying seven years ago that I told him of the story (he wasn't familiar with it), and how he had been that tree for me? That's definitely part of it. My mother, I remember, commented that she didn't recall it being a "Christian" book. I didn't really have an answer to that, only to what I saw in it. Which is...
Complete love to the point of emptying. Unquestioning sacrifice, even for someone who isn't appreciating or understanding what they've been given. A desire only to have communion. An entering into final rest. In other words, a perfect example of the immensity of what Jesus did for me, desired from me, provides for me, and will carry me to.
That is why I always cry.
So every time I finish the story, eyes full of tears, my kids look at me as if to say, "Are you okay?" My little one asks, "Why are you crying, Dad?" And every time I explain, I think she understands just the tiniest bit more. These are tears of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the giver and the gift. I only pray these children will open their hearts and receive it, and that they won't miss the other lesson: all our Giver really wants in return is our time, for us to come to Him as we did as children.
Intersecting Faith & Life: But can any of us actually hope to become more like the tree in the story? Parents know what it means to give every last ounce of everything they are to the betterment of their children. We have reason for doing so. Do you know anyone who empties themselves this way for those they don't have a familial reason to love? What steps can you take to emulate their Christ-like, unconditional love, especially during the holidays?