The Giving Tree of Motherhood
My own love of books began very early. I can remember story times, summer reading lists, and coming home from the public library with large stacks of books; these stacks have just gotten larger as I have grown older. So I knew that when my daughter was born, I wanted to share my passion with her immediately: We started reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible together on her first day home from the hospital. Since then, we have read through it several times over.
Perhaps it’s because I started early — or maybe she’s still too young to know any better — but she usually sits contently, sucking her thumb, and listening to the sound of my voice. How I treasure those quiet moments cuddled together in the nursery, sharing the gospel and the ancient stories that proclaim Christ’s rescue plan to save his people! In those tender moments, life seems almost perfect.
The problem I have is holding onto that type of true contentment. I think many moms can attest to this same pitfall. It seems, more often than not, that as we move about our days, those small segments of joy get sideswiped by the mundane tasks of everyday motherhood: the chorus of “No’s,” dealing with a sick and equally grumpy kid, household chores, and trying to check off just a few things on our to-do lists. It is personally further exacerbated for me when I think about all the things I could be doing instead.
You see, I juggle many different jobs — my husband calls me a “Hybrid Mom” — dividing my time between stay-at-home mom, doctoral student/university instructor, freelance writer, and pastor’s wife. Because each task requires a large degree of self-motivation, I have been trained to constantly push ahead in order to accomplish just one more thing; this equates into a constant plague of restlessness and discontentment. When my daughter came along, I thought I could easily insert her into the whirlwind schedule of forward progress. What I got instead was a life change — a stop sign and a U-turn — that God has been using to redirect my purpose, contentment, and joy.
In many ways, God is using the mundane chores of motherhood to mold and shape me into finding my contentment in him rather than my accomplishments. These teaching lessons usually happen when I least expect it, in the subtlest tasks — like story time before a nap. Today, in addition to our quiet time with The Jesus Storybook Bible, we read another children’s book that provides an equally compelling picture of God’s grace and love: Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.
The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree tells a simple love story about a boy that loves a tree and a tree that loves him back. The narrative follows the child from boyhood to old age. As a young child, the boy’s love affair allows him to spend long hours with the tree; as he grows older, he spends less and less time with the tree, eventually only returning to the tree when he needs something from it in order to succeed in his life away from the tree. By the end, he has taken everything from the tree — her apples, branches, and even trunk — leaving only a stump behind. But each time the boy comes back, the tree lights up with joy, happy to give another part of herself to the boy.
Why? Because she loves him.
Love compels the tree to give of herself over and again for the sake of the boy’s happiness, health, and joy. She gives until she has nothing left but a stump. Even that she gives to the boy as a seat on which to rest.
I Am the Child in Need
As mothers, we can easily identify with the character of the tree, as we sacrifice nearly everything to our children until we have nothing left to offer of ourselves; I don’t think it is accidental that Silverstein gave the tree female pronouns. However, this narrative offers an even richer metaphor if we think of the tree as Christ and the boy as ourselves.
Unlike us, God gives of himself in a perfect way, never tiring or getting agitated at our endless needs. As the bridegroom of the Church, as John the Baptist announces in John 3:29, Christ “rejoices over his bride” (Isaiah 62:5). In Luke 15:20, God is metaphorically described as the father of the prodigal son who “while [the son] was still a long way off . . . saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” even though the son had earlier asked for nothing short of his father’s death.
Because he loves the wayward son. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Sinners. Not friends or even unacquainted strangers but sinners, meaning we had wronged him in a real and tangible way. In his great mercy, God erases our offenses and offers us to sit at his table and to become his adopted sons and daughters.
Even when we push him aside and leave to take our fill of the world’s fleeting happiness, he invites us again and again and again because, as James 4:6 says, “he gives more grace.”
Too often, as Christ-followers, we respond like the boy. When we first accept his sacrifice, we take unmediated, pure joy in Christ: spending time with him daily, basking in the glow of his presence, and treasuring his rest. But as time wanes, we begin to spend less time with him, while pursuing other paths of happiness. Like the boy, who returns to the tree when he needs something, we seek Christ’s help as an infrequently called upon last resort. Rather than seeing him as the sustaining source of life, we view him as merely a fallback in times of need.
Instead we must see that Christ satisfies us in the fullest sense when we pursue him and humbly submit to his Lordship. When our satisfaction is found in him, delight and pleasure that once seemed illusive and self-focused gets redirected into true worship.
Finding joy in Christ as the source of our life, reframes motherhood from a burden into a delight. Knowing that Christ sustains us and provides us with rest, within the daily mundane tasks, the monumental catastrophes, and eventually eternity, compels us to give sacrificially of ourselves while pursuing his glory. Because Christ first offered a seat of rest to each one of us as believers, then we can joyfully say to our children, “Come, child — again and again — sit down. Sit down and rest.”