“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away and be happy.” And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy…But not really.Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Do you need any? I’m sure I can find some between my shoulder blades.
Really, it’s no bother. I’m happy to do it. My pleasure. Think nothing of it. I’ve got this.
Me? Oh, I’m okay. I don’t need a thing, but thanks for asking. Nothing to complain about. I’m A-okay, just fine.
Everything is fine.
But enough about me. How can I help you?
When I read The Giving Tree as a child, I was fond of the friendship between a growing boy and a tree rooted in place. It was a sweet story about a boy who, through the years, would return to visit the tree. The tree was always happy to give something of value to the boy. In the end, the tree was leveled to a knotted stump from giving all she had to the boy over the years. But even then, she offered her stump as a seat for an old man needing a rest. And the tree was happy.
At least that’s how I remembered it as a kid.
I read this timeless classic to my daughter at bedtime tonight, and guess what?
This story is complete and utter B.S. Sorry, Shel.
What about this little snot-nosed kid? Taking, taking, taking and not a single thank you in return? In all of his visits to the tree, did he ever ask her, “How ya holding up without that trunk of yours?” Not once. He just came looking for something else to saw off for his own benefit.
And that seriously co-dependent tree? Was it rewarding to give of herself until she had nothing left? Does this type of selflessness truly make one happy? Grin and bear it, they say. Power through.
It’s funny, though, now that I think about it. This absurd, one-sided saga sounds eerily familiar.
There once was a working mom who thought she was Atlas, and the world was hers to carry. Every day, she hurled it onto her tired shoulders and trudged along, getting nowhere fast. “Look at my strength!” she boasted. “Isn’t it something to behold?” The passersby were undoubtedly impressed. “But aren’t you worried about getting hurt?” asked one of them. “I’m more afraid of what will happen if I let it go,” she replied.
There are times the world feels heavy, and oh what a fantastic, welcomed distraction when it does. As moms, community servants, wives, sisters, friends, employees, advisers, counselors, and vessels for venting – aren’t we all at some point like Mother Atlas? Like The Giving Tree? We carry the burdens of others. We give of our labored fruits. We make ourselves the sacrificial lamb so others can succeed.
Over a lifetime, we shovel out hours, sweat, and tears. We languish over a friend who is hurting . . . a broken relationship . . . an empty donation box . . . a world in debt that looks to us as its creditor. “Help,” the world says, or even sometimes, not. Regardless, here we are, waiting to dive into another dilemma never short in supply. We are not fulfilled until we have nothing left. Then we ask ourselves, “What else can I muster? Where am I falling short?”
Friends, here’s one of the hardest truths I’ve had to swallow like spoonfuls of sand:
Helping others can be the worst kind of selfish.
I know you’re thinking I’m batty at this point, but hear me out. Before I practiced healthy coping skills, my idea of helping was a mad method to deflect pain. It was a way to focus on problems of which I had no ownership. Giving to others was my excuse to ignore.
Ignore my shortcomings as a parent, spouse, and daughter.
Ignore my misgivings about the future.
Ignore my defects of character.
Ignore the shadows of my past I had stowed away in the corner of a dark, locked room.
Helping others also meant I was worthy. It meant I mattered. It mean’t I could offer something of significance to a hurting world, even when I myself was unraveling.
Giving of myself meant I kept busy with everything and nothing at the same time. Running 90 to nothing shielded me from addressing the goals I had for my own life. After all, isn’t it easier to blame a failure to act on lack of time rather than fear?
It’s been said that we must give more in order to get more. But what if you give of yourself until you are no longer there? Until you’re unrecognizable? I was only flashes of light from others’ eyes. Only remnants of others’ pain cradled in my arms. An empty cup drained of recognition.
In the shuffle of feigned benevolence, I had forgotten I was also a person hidden under the weight of the world . . . another spirit in need of saving.
So, to all of my Giving Trees of goodwill out there . . . to my Mother Atlases, REST.
Do you recognize that small voice inside of you? Is she asking for help? Would a Giving Tree like yourself ignore her?
No, that would be unnatural. You are a giver.
Give yourself a warm blanket, a hot cup of tea, and some grace.
Wrap yourself in love and never forget you are worth saving.
Tomorrow you can ask the hard questions about boundaries and motives and fears, but for today, quiet the wind through your branches, settle down in your roots, and give grace. Sometimes that’s all you need to save the world.