The Giving Tree tells the story of unconditional love as a tree gives all: her apples, branches, and trunk to a growing boy who is in search of happiness.
When we purchased our first home our son was 3 years old. His inquisitive mind immediately wanted to know who these people were that lived next door. I told him they were our neighbors and we would meet them soon. The word neighbor stuck and he would refer to them as “neighbor” long after we knew their names. I can still hear his gruff little voice calling out to them “Hi neighbor!” The night before we moved away they came to deliver a going away gift to our son, a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, with a personalized note: “Grow big and wise! Love, ‘Neighbor.’”
The Giving Tree tells the story of unconditional love as a tree gives all: her apples, branches, and trunk to a growing boy who is in search of happiness. This book has held a special place in our hearts not only because of its message but because of the kind, and thoughtful act of this neighbor.
Recently I read a review of The Giving Tree and felt sad at the negative connotation that was being associated with such a timeless and beautiful story. Instead of seeing the love and joy of giving to help the boy be happy, the writer focused on its polar opposite – the selfishness of the boy.
Located at the root of giving and serving others, love was the powerful motivator behind the tree giving so selflessly. Some say that we must love ourself before we can love others, and that may be true, but our search for happiness and joy will never be found chasing after our own selfish desires.
Love is not only a feeling but an action word that has the power to change when used to motivate our actions. It is a level of dedication that places someone or something before ourselves. We give, serve, sacrifice, and change all in the name of love. Love can be the driving force behind doing whatever is required.
It’s not about you
Most of us remember either hearing our mother tell us “It’s not about you,” or have told our own kids this very thing. Learning to put others needs before our own is sometimes painful in a world that teaches self-indulgence.
“It’s not about you. Kierkegaard, Socrates, and Levinas all believed love is fundamentally directed toward something outside oneself. An over-focus on yourself keeps you stuck in your head and worried about your own feelings, rather than out in the world doing good.” – Benjamin Hardy
Doing good in the world can be somewhat daunting. I love the story Gordon B. Hinckley tells of his time serving as a young missionary in England. He was sick and discouraged when he wrote home stating that he felt he was wasting his family’s money and his time. His father’s reply was simple and direct: “Forget yourself and go to work.”
We learn what love is all about when we stop focusing on what we want and learn to help others. Being self-absorbed or self-centered will only keep us from reaching our full potential. Rather than worrying about you, invest yourself in something you believe in.
Cultivate your love like you would a garden. Defined as improving growth by labor and attention, cultivation is a process of learning, growing, and giving. Continue to practice and look for opportunities to give and serve someone or something that you believe in.
Each time the giving tree sacrificed something for the little boy, she felt happy. She had cultivated the seeds of love for the boy and allowed them to continue to grow. To give unconditionally and love with all that we have brings joy. Not because of how the receiver reacts, but because of the way it makes us feel inside.
How do you find ways to give to others?
- Hardy, Benjamin P. (2016) Thrive Global. Retrieved from https://journal.thriveglobal.com/you-love-what-you-invest-yourself-in-4091937c4f70#.p5jdmffkq
- Hinckley, Gordon B. (2012) lds.org.”Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2012-05-1501-preparation-of-gordon-b-hinckley-forget-yourself-and-go-to-work?lang=eng&category=gordon-b-hinckley