It’s about time, since I’m going to graduate next month (ow ow)!
This was an easy peezy, short, and fun paper due today! The task was to share a non-scriptural resource that has impacted our lives and could be used in a counseling context. In fact, a blog post I wrote back in 2011 called “Jesus Everywhere” inspired my resource choice (you’ll see I copied parts of the blog post, though it doesn’t count as plagiarism since it was my own writing). 🙂 To get you in the mood, I thought I’d share this video. Enjoy!
In the spring of 2011, my family sat around the table eating pancakes for dinner. My sister asked if we had ever read The Giving Tree because the book came in the mail for her earlier that day. I wracked my brain trying to recall the moral of the story, or even just the mood. I knew of the famous children’s book. I am sure I read it at one time or another. The only thing I could remember was that distinctive cover: green, a tree towering over a little boy looking up at it. Not being able to withstand my ignorance any longer I said, “Story time.” I put down my syrupy fork and reached out for the book. I read the story aloud, showing pictures to my family like I would to a Kindergarten class. And my mind kept darting ahead, trying to predict Shel Silverstein’s ending. But it went in a more tragic direction than I had expected. The tree gives to the little boy throughout the years. First it’s her apples, but as the boy gets older he demands more and more of her, until she’s chopped down to a stump. And at last, when he’s an old man, she says she has nothing left to give. But then she realizes she does have something, and she invites him to sit on her stump to rest. “And the boy did. And the tree was happy. THE END.” Both Dad and I had silent tears. Who would have known that such a little book could conjure up such emotion? ”Jesus.” I said it again, “Jesus. For some reason this makes me think of Jesus.”
This story points to the God of Scripture and his relationship with us. First, as the tree delights to give to the boy, so God delights to give to his people. This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:11, “ If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” The lie Satan set loose in Eden was that God does not want good things for his children—Jesus’ words set the record straight. Secondly, every time the tree sees the boy and gives parts of herself, the narrator repeats, “and the tree was happy.” Does this not echo God’s exuberance and excitement over being in relationship with us? Zephaniah 3:17b affirms this, “…he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” In addition, like the boy, we are too busy. We pursue all the things he does- money, a wife and family, a house, and a boat. He hurt the tree to get what he wanted, and so we squander God’s grace in pursuit of worldly treasures. Though the tree suffered, she was still so excited to see the boy, and she loved him. The tree’s unrelenting love harkens back to the parable of the Prodigal Son where the Father (representing God the Father) runs out to the meet the wayward Son, even though the Son had greatly maligned him. What an unexpected and unhuman welcome!
Most powerfully, the tree gave all of herself to the boy (apples, branches and trunk) to the point that she had nothing left but a stump—yet even that she eagerly gave to the boy! Christ, too gave all of himself for us, even his very life. And he did that by “climbing up a tree,” a different tree, to suffer and die for us. Philippians 2:7-8 describes Christ’s sacrifice: “ but [Christ] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus emptied himself and died so we might live a glorious life and eternity with him. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). That is the Giving Tree. That is Jesus.
This story surprised me by the powerful depiction of the nature of God’s love. His love is perfect and almost unfathomable. After our read aloud, I realized a lie had crept into my heart; the lie that God is distant and unforgiving. The Giving Tree compelled me to explore Scripture—was the tree’s unconditional love for the boy like God’s love for me? Does God delight in me that much, want me that much, is he willing to sacrifice everything, even though I’m such a sinner? The verses I mentioned are only a sliver of those I found proving God’s sweet and intense love for me. In all my sinful estate, God sacrificed what was most valuable to him, his perfect son, Jesus Christ, for my sake. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This truth, prompted by the story of The Giving Tree, changed me in that I strive and pray to be the “anti-boy.” Spending as much time with the tree as I can, cultivating thankfulness, and turning away from earthly treasures are a few ways I attempt to do that. Moreover, the selflessness of the tree and her rich love are held out as a beacon before me.
In conclusion, the most obvious counseling application is to read The Giving Tree to a child in order to explain God’s love to them. However, not only did the story touch my heart as a woman in her 20s, but it also touched a man in his 60s, my Dad. God can use anything, even a children’s book to share his truth. Read this story to any aged counselee when in need of demonstrating the extreme measures God has undergone in order to be in an intimate relationship with them. No matter how we have maligned God, his love is greater. Does that not burn a fire in our hearts, springing us into action? Does that not ignite within us a love to worship, serve, and please him? Let us live today in light of such sacrificial love, as servants of the Man on–now off–the Tree.