One of the stories that I cherish quite a bit is the story of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. It chronicles the changing relationship of a boy and a tree, and the giving nature of the tree. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book you can click here to be directed to a YouTube video narrated by Silverstein himself.
What I love about this story, is that no matter how long the boy had been away, no matter how much the cost of the gift was to the tree, the tree was always happy to give. The first Christmas gift I can remember was this awesome Pirate Lego set I got back when I was about 4/5 years old. I remember it came in a huge box and it had an Island where I could build a pirate fort complete with traps, and a jail cell, a skeleton Lego man and even a Lego crocodile.I can still remember opening it that Christmas morning, and how happy my parents were when I hugged them tight in thanks.
But there were a few other things I remember about my childhood. I remember welfare checks, and standing in line at the food bank. I remember my parents having to borrow money from close friends in church to help pay for food and for rent. I remember my mom having to make me clothes because it was cheaper I remember my parents struggling to make ends meet, pay the bills, put food on the table, and pay for my mom to go through school to learn English and get her Certificate in Dental Assisting. I don’t know how my parents did it, but they managed to pull through.
Despite our difficulties my mom always gave to the church through her tithes and offerings. She instilled in me from a very young age the idea that giving back to God financially was not something I “had” to do, but rather an act of worship for all that God had provided. She also always gave to God first as an act of trust, trusting that God would pull us through; and He did! Whether it was through government programs, or generous friends who gave despite their own difficulties, or through unexplained miracles we always made it through the month. We were never homeless; we were never repossessed; my sister and I never starved; we always went to school warm; God always helped make ends meet.
Love Transforms Sacrifice
When you love someone, the act of giving ceases to be a sacrifice. My parents were always content to give to my sister and I, even if that meant they went without. The Giving Tree was always happy to give to the boy, no matter the cost to herself. God doesn’t demand that we sacrifice, or give, or worship; you’ll never find that in the Commandments. Rather, giving to God is an act of loving worship because He is always faithful in our lives.
Giving becomes a natural response of love to God when we realize all the tremendous ways in which God has blessed us on a daily basis. Love transforms the sacrifice of giving, and transforms it into a loving act of worship. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a little. Don’t be afraid to put God first in your time, in your praise, in your finances. God has promised that He will honour your sacrifice; He’s promised that you will never be left wanting; He’s promised that He will always take care of you, and my God is faithful to the very end!
Jesus Is Our Giving Tree
The moment that sin entered into the world, and contaminated this planet and its inhabitants, a schism, a large separation was created between God and us. We were never meant to live like this; we were never meant to suffer, and struggle and be in want. God made us to be in constant and daily community with our creator. Sin took that away from us, but God couldn’t stand being away from those He loved so much. He was willing to sacrifice Himself in order to bridge that separation. He was willing to give Himself completely in order to make us happy and afford us salvation.
There’s nothing that we can do in our own right to earn salvation. Salvation cannot be earned; it’s freely given. Jesus is our giving tree, offering all of Himself, dying on the cross, and conquering sin and death to give each of us the free gift of salvation. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been away. It doesn’t matter if we only go to God when we need something from Him. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, God is happy to give, and longs to have a relationship with you!
Return to Square One
We can learn to give generously like the giving tree. We can allow love to transform our lives, but I believe that we need to return to square one to best do so. Did you notice, how as the boy ages in the book, he begins to leave the tree? As the boy’s needs change, so does the relationship with the tree change. Doesn’t that happen in our relationship with God too? We become burdened by our worry, and doubt, and our need to provide for ourselves and our family, that sometimes our relationship with God changes from being loving friendship to a relationship of resources.
Do we only come to God when we need something, or are in trouble? While God is always happy to give, our relationship with God shouldn’t only be existent in the tough times. Children are so unencumbered by worry that their relationship are pure and genuine. They don’t form relationships solely out of need, but out of love. They don’t care if they have mud on their face, or snot running down their noses, they love recklessly. Children also give recklessly. They aren’t afraid to shout, and dance, and scream, and throw their hands up. Sometimes we allow our worry of being judged by those around us that we change who God intended us to be.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “I’m telling you, unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.” We have to return to a state of uninhibited simplicity of character. When a child gives of his time, or effort or even money, they don’t think about whether they’ll have enough; all they see is a need, and their ability to contribute.
Don’t be afraid to respond to God’s goodness in childlike simplicity. If that means giving to God financially in response to His faithfulness in your life, then do so. If that means stopping to help someone in need even if it makes you late, help out. If that means that you respond to a sermon with shouts of “Amen!” or respond to the lyrics of a praise song in church that make you want to stand up, lift your hands, clap, or dance, then do it! You are responding not to the preacher, not to the singers, but to a revelation of God’s truth for your life.
We can become like the giving tree, and give with happiness. We can respond to the selflessness of God’s giving in our lives by giving back in our praise, in our time, in our efforts, and in our finances. But for all of this to be possible, we have to go back to being like children, carefree, not worried about our future, but like a child who trusts their parents to provide, trust that our Heavenly parent will always provide. We must take ourselves back to the beginning; to that childlike faith, that worships unashamed, and gives unconditionally.
God help me to respond to you however you impress me to respond. Help me to honor you by giving back to you in my time, efforts, praise and in my finances. Transform my heart to one that views giving as an act of love and not sacrifice. Thank you for your sacrifice on the cross. Help me to respond to you in childlike faith, unashamed, uninhibited, and unconditionally. Amen.