Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lesson from a Tree

by Dr. Roger Gilbert

Last night, our grandchildren, Jessie and Jacob, spent the night with us. Bedtime is a story time, so I told them to each pick out a book and I would read to them. Jessie, who is eight, said she wanted to do the reading from her book. So, while I read to Jacob, Jessie read to Deidra.

The book Jacob chose is a long-time favorite, The Giving Tree. It is the story of a boy and a tree. When the boy was little, he loved to climb the tree, swing on the branches, and eat the apples. Both the boy and the tree were happy. But, as the boy grew up, he had other interests. He wanted money. That, he said, would make him happy. So, the tree suggested he pick the apples and sell them so he would have money. The story states that when the tree gave the apples, "The tree was happy."

Some time later, the boy, now a young adult, came back. The tree was delighted, but the boy was not interested in climbing or swinging. He wanted to build a house. The tree gave him her limbs so that the boy would be happy. But, again, the story says that when the tree gave the limbs, "The tree was happy."

A long time went by before the boy came back again. This time, the boy, now obviously a middle aged man, wanted to build a boat so he could sail away. The tree told him that he could cut down its trunk, make a boat, and sail away to be happy. So, the boy cut down the trunk of the tree, made a boat, and sailed away. The story says, "The tree was happy. But not really."

The next time the boy came back, he is obviously a very old, tired man. The tree is sad that she has nothing else to give. Perhaps that is why the giving of the trunk left her not really happy. The boy, now an old man, states that he is too old and tired to do much of anything. He just needs a place to sit down. Suddenly, the tree has an idea. She straightens up as best a stump can straighten. A stump makes a good place to sit. So, the boy, now the old man, sits down. The story ends, "And the tree was happy."

The message of the children’s book is profoundly true. Over and over again it is the giving tree that is happy. In the first part of the story when both the boy and the tree are enjoying their mutual give and take, they both are happy. But after that period, not once does it say that the boy is happy. It is always, "And the tree was happy."

Ben Gill in his book, The Joy of Giving, says in the opening paragraph:

"My life has been spent helping people to learn the gift of giving. After twenty-five years in this pursuit, I come now to tell you that one fact has become increasingly clear: the happiest people on earth are the people who have learned the joy of giving."

Much of our world is obsessed with the pursuit of temporary happiness, missing the basic truth that genuine, lasting joy is the product of giving, not getting. Giving is not limited to contributions of money, but rather is a lifestyle that encompasses one’s whole personality. It is a lifestyle perfectly exemplified in Jesus Christ. It is the product of the Spirit of Christ functioning as the Lord within us.

May the grace of Christ produce the joy of Christ within each of us.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Announcer."

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