“I forgot to show you my story!” my little sister (Big Brothers Big Sisters) shouted from the backseat as we drove to the movie theater for our weekly outing.
“You wrote a story?” I asked, pride swelling. Creativity is one of those things that makes me feel most alive, and seeing this ten-year-old girl get so excited about writing made me ridiculously happy.
“Yeah! But I forgot to bring it.”
“What’s it about?” I asked, intrigued.
“Um, I don’t know, I forget.” Undeterred, I waited for her response. “I forget” is her stock answer to a lot of questions, but if you are patient, she tends to inexplicably “remember”
. . . sure enough . . .
“It’s about a wishing tree,” she said, matter-of-factly.
My grin widened. It sounded like something I would have written at her age. “A wishing tree? That sounds awesome.”
When we returned from the theater, my little sis immediately retrieved her story and gave it to me to read. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. I read with appropriate enthusiasm.
The story is about a girl named Sharlett and her brother Jeff who discover a wishing tree in their backyard. The tree has only six wishes and each time a wish is made a leaf falls off. When the last leaf falls, the tree dies, and there are no more wishes. Sharlett, Jeff, and her parents quickly go through five of the wishes, but when Sharlett and Jeff realize that there is only one wish left, they try to distract their parents while crafting a plan to keep the last wish on the tree. Despite much deception and trickery from the kids, the mom eventually finds out that the kids moved the tree out of their backyard so that their parents would not use the last wish.
The story ends with a poignant truth:
Mom said, “All the kids come in the house.” She said, “it doesn’t matter if the tree was gone, but tell me the truth.”
Recently, I have discovered what seems to be one of my most precious “wishes” in this life. I have done everything I can to keep my wishing tree alive, including deception and hiding.
“I’m less concerned about what you choose to do, and more interested in what the motives are behind your actions. Help me understand,” said my counselor one evening when I was particularly distressed about what seemed to me to be a strong desire to abandon what God wanted for me and go my own way. Her words disarmed me. Here was someone who simply wanted to understand me. Here was someone who was not panicked or worried about what decision I was going to make. She just wanted my vulnerability.
Maybe a week later, I had decided to tell another couple of friends a little about the difficult counseling journey I have been walking through, so that they would be able to pray for me more specifically. As I drove home that evening, though I knew the war was (and is now, too) far from over, I felt, rather than heard the words seep into my heart and spirit with sudden conviction:
“I’m proud of you.”
I immediately burst into tears right there on the interstate, because I knew I had and have been idolizing something above my God. I have acted in rebellion and have cursed Him. My trust in His goodness continues to be unstable.
And yet, here was the Savior of my soul, to whom no past, present, or future thought, action, word, or emotion of mine is hidden, reassuring me that He was proud of me.
Could it be that our God values us coming to Him in the messy honesty of our brokenness more than He appreciates begrudging obedience? Could it be that I can follow God and be angry with Him at the same time? Perhaps the Christian life is more about running to God’s grace and love and less about walking in inexplicable contentment than I once believed.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17
Maybe God is not overly concerned about what we do with our wishing trees. That doesn’t mean that everything is relative. Our actions matter. Our decisions matter. But in the overarching story, our actions will not ultimately hinder His plan of redemption, and God has always been more concerned with the heart than the hypocrite’s righteous deeds.
Maybe God is saying to you and to me: