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? Romans 8:32
When my children were but ages five and three, they already knew my weakness.
They recognized that 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, who are older now, have known this from early on. And oh, have they twisted that knife. 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 have they invariangly picked through the years? The Giving Tree of course!
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 as my father lay dying 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 wondering if I’m okay. My youngest used to ask, “Why you cry, Dad?” And every time I’ve explained, I think she has understood just the tiniest bit more. These are tears of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Giver and the immensity of a gift to a person consumed with self-interest who has forgotten innocence. A short time ago these children opened their hearts to receive that gift. Now I pray that they won’t miss the other lesson from the book: all our Giver really wants in return is our time, for us to come to Him as we did as children.