Every time I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, I cry.
“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.”
The story is simple, heartbreaking, potent. On every page, I see the love of God contrasted with my fickleness, my wandering. I see the early days of our relationship, those first sweet meetings, when it was enough just to be together. We played, and I ate His fruit and sat in His shade. I see, too, the passage of time, and my foolishness in turning my face to other things. In my search for romance and wealth and adventure, I forgot Him. But He! He did not judge or scold. He gave His apples, His branches, His trunk. He gave all of Himself, and only then, when every other pursuit had failed, only then did I return to Him.
It reminds me of an Augustine prayer.
Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.
As a picture of unconditional, self-giving love, Silverstein’s story is no less powerful than Augustine’s prayer, and readers of any age can apprehend it. “Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.” She was broken, and she lavished her fragrance on him. The sweet perfume called him home.