I have an ambivalent relationship with The Giving Tree. I’m sure there are those who haven’t felt the need to fight with the children’s classic.
When I was a young mother, consumed with love for my first daughter, I read into the tree’s sacrifice the lengths to which I would go to nurture her journey through life. I often couldn’t read it to her without crying. As my life rolled forward and I experienced the nightmare of living with someone who takes from you and gives nothing back, I came to see the story as an example of what culture has done to women, idealizing their roles as eviscerated sources who incomprehensibly destroy their own potentials to feed others what will never satisfy. And I couldn’t read it without crying.
Now I live in peace with my life, and I see that both little boys and apple trees eventually die here and move on to something else, and usually find peace with the unfolding of their existence in the end. What difference if she had given fruit all her life and then died, rather than becoming a stump in stages for someone to quietly sit upon and reminisce? It’s a depressing story, to be sure, but who’s to say which life the old and tired prefer? When I’m past an experience, it’s just a story, and I seldom feel regret for what might have been, as long as I’m not still stuck in the what was. Que sera.
I’ve been thinking about revelation. What could that possibly have to do with a story of senseless exploration and sadness? I will tell a personal story.
Many years ago I taught middle school English and Science. At the end of one school year, I knew that I could not go back. I had a farm to manage and people to care for alone, so the decision was not made lightly, but I knew it was right. I searched for months for what I would do next. I prayed with devotion, and I would have an idea. I followed up, but it turned out to be a dead end. I prayed again and would have another idea. I followed it up, and it again turned out to be dead end. And so I continued, sometimes multiple times a day. Each time the idea I came upon withered to a fruitless effort I would experience a bit less frustration, because a new idea always seemed to come fairly quickly. I learned to be less annoyed that I wasn’t being given an answer that would end my pursuit of answers.
One day, after another dead end, I realized that I was not the same person I was when I began my quest. I was finding inspiration more quickly, feeling almost no discouragement when it did not pan out. I was learning fast. I was stronger and more lithe, like an artist whose hands were beginning to move with precision and confidence. I had a dream about a maze of privet hedge, taller than I was, with signs at every turning point. As soon as I turned a corner, I would see a sign indicating the way to go, but I could only go as far as that sign, for when I arrived, it pointed in another direction and I had to turn and go that way, while another signed beckoned in the distance. It wasn’t annoying to move through the maze because I had come to accept the sheer scale of the maze and to acknowledge that I wasn’t there to get out of it. My path that summer was like that.
A friend of mine frequently makes the point that our life is nonlinear, instead circling back on itself many times over. He’s talking about searching for a mission, but I find that everything in life circles back on itself, sending us through experience that we’ve had before, affording us an opportunity to refine what we know through it. It can feel as if God has no plan for us, or we are out of sync with him, when in fact, we’re just circling back for a review.
The 60s song originally sung by Dusty Springfield and covered here by a younger group, captures the feeling I’m swimming in tonight.
Many people struggle with the process of revelation, expecting God to hand them something of value, something they can immediately use, something that will eliminate the need to return to him again. He seldom does. Instead, he leaves a trail of bread crumbs and we either follow or make our own way without him. Line upon line. Grace by grace. A circle in a spiral. A wheel within a wheel.
How can one person see a situation in one light and another see it completely opposite, yet both are acting on inspiration? Revelation is for us. It is personal assistance for a personal journey. It is less the truths of the universe being opened to us (though that does occasionally happen) than purposeful movement along our own path back to God. Life is sometimes described as being dropped in the wilderness, each of us in a different place, with a compass and a map that will only work for us. “Two steps forward, three to the right around the bush, 4 steps forward, down an incline and around a riverbend.” The instructions are less eternal than specific to our time and place.
I’ve felt inspired to understand and act upon guidance that I have later come to understand was neither useful to continue nor appropriate for anyone else. These were vital experiences at the time, however, and served to move me forward in understandings that grew experience by experience. The walk through the maze is more about listening to the voice, looking for the signs, than getting through as quickly as we can.
Be patient with your circling journey – your times of giving apples and your times of trimming branches – the ship you build to find yourself that returns you back where you began. Like a circle in a spiral, you will one day understand. And you will be at peace with whatever has been.
Well. I sound like I’m 80. Time for bed.