The world has long loved The Giving Tree. It was read to me as a child and, now, as a new parent, we received copies (plural) to read to our little boy. I sat in his nursery one night and pulled it from the shelf. But instead of a great story, it read more like a great warning–this is because it is a picture-perfect depiction of the (difficult to define, but easy to observe) struggle we call “codependency.”
Allow me to explain (and destroy a childhood memory of yours)…CLICK HERE for a reading of The Giving Tree by author Shel Silverstein.
Boy meets Tree. Boy swings on Tree = “And the tree was happy.” Teenager wants money + Tree gives apples to sell = “And the tree was happy.” Young man wants a house + Tree gives branches = “And the tree was happy.” Middle-aged man wants a boat + Tree gives trunk = “And the tree was happy.” Old man returns + Tree states it has nothing left to give + Tree offers to be sat on = “And the tree was happy.”
A few sad observations:
- The boy only comes around when he wants something. He doesn’t want the tree; he wants what the tree has to offer him. In time, it’s clear: he’s a taker of the tree; not a lover of the tree.
- The tree is only happy when the boy is around. And the tree can only keep the boy around by giving itself away, to it’s own loss of dignity and eventually destruction.
- Ironically, the tree calls the male figure “boy” throughout the entirety of the story–which is fitting giving the boyish, lustful, selfishness nature and total disregard for another (even though it is a talking tree, which should probably be cut down for being creepy).
- In the end, both tree and boy have searched in vain for love in each other and not found it, and yet still with a nasty, old man sitting upon it, that old victimized codependent voice says “And the tree was happy.” Happy being used and abused and manipulated right until it’s a worthless old stump only good for another’s rump.
- The Giving Tree is no longer a living tree.
A Christian might say, “But aren’t we called to give?” And “Aren’t we called to forgive seventy times seven?” Yes, and we are also called not to have idols (1 John 5:21). To give yourself away to another to earn/keep a person’s love, to lose yourself in another, to become so enmeshed you are no longer whole in Christ alone, is to idol-ize a person and become codependent. Codependent relationships can be defined as: a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.1
So if you’re reading this and thinking, “Wait a second…this all sounds so familiar. I give and give and get nothing in return.” “Why won’t [fill in the blank] love me when all I do is give and forgive them when they hurt me?” Perhaps you, like the tree, are desperately struggling with codependency: giving away yourself to make another happy, because your happiness is dependent on their happiness. But their happiness from what you gave them is fleeting and they always want more of you. And your happiness from them being happy is fleeting and you always want more of them. It’s relationship addiction. It’s codependency. It’s sin that leads to death. They are a parasite and you are a willing host. Sound harsh? It’s much harsher to live it to the bitter end. But…there’s hope.
ONLY Jesus can fill that person's void and your void. Only Jesus can provide eternal satisfaction and joy. Which is why Paul by the Holy Spirit wrote in Acts 17:28, “In God we live and move and have our being.” Not in a lover or any other, but God alone through His son, Jesus Christ–who died for your sins and rose from the dead. Be whole in Christ. People are finding freedom, healing and new healthy patterns through recovery in Christ. Listen to Nancy's story of recovery in Christ from codependency!
So here’s your new memory verse, fellow codependent (aren’t we all at some level?!):
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)