Both my sons, Eric and Justin, and any number of neighborhood kids have taken their turn climbing this tree. It’s branches begin right at shoulder height, beckoning children to grab ahold and shimmy up it. Above, the branches float up at lazy 30 degree angles, providing secure footholds for tiny feet, a ladder to the sky. Occasionally, a branch will break, the product of an ill-placed sneaker, but in general, it is a good, sturdy, climbing tree. God made this tree for little boys and girls to climb. And it is a very good tree.
Many plastic parachute army men and paper airplanes have been launched from its branches. It has been the crow’s nest for many binoculared children. It’s been base for the occasional game of hide and seek. It really has been a very good tree.
There was a time, when Eric and Justin were very young, when they weren’t allowed to climb the tree. They were just too small, and the tree was way too big. As they got a bit older, I built a ramp for them so they could climb up to the low branches, where they built pretend forts in the sky. But first they had to ask permission, and I would help them negotiate each branch, step by step, helping them get their footing, teaching them how far out on a limb they could safely go. And they would follow my lead, hand in hand, trusting me to get them up the tree. In a sense, I taught them the “rules of tree climbing,” you know, simple things like don’t bounce, or don’t push, or wrap your arm around a branch to steady yourself, or always look where you put your feet.
Eventually the tree got shorter as they got older. At least it seemed that way. And when they finally attained a certain age and aptitude, that trusty old tree became their own personal jungle gym. They would climb it with abandon, and swing like monkeys, and hang from the highest branch that would hold their weight. But by then, it was okay by me. Because they were older and they could handle themselves and I knew they had learned the lessons necessary to climb a tree without falling. And after all, it was a very good tree.
“Honey, do you know where the boys are?”
“Yeah. I think I saw them in the front yard climbing on the tree.”
I think life is like that tree. That is to say, living life in God’s will is like learning to climb a tree. Life is full of scraped knees and potential falls. And there are any number of branches to climb, any number of limbs to be out on. God takes our hand and leads us through the trials of life, through the maze of branches, until we eventually get the hang of it. And then He slowly lets us go, to explore the tree and ultimately to enjoy it and all of creation. But here’s the thing. I am becoming more and more convinced that He is not so much interested in our ability to climb as He is interested in our ability to trust and obey Him in the process.
It’s kind of like the tree. Once I was convinced that my children were old enough to climb a tree safely—and had demonstrated it to me through their attentiveness to my rules and directions—then it became perfectly okay for me to have them climb it whenever they wanted to. They didn’t have to ask me what game to play. They didn’t have to ask me what branch to sit on. Debbie and I knew that as long as they were in the tree, they weren’t disobeying us or getting into mischief. In effect, they were in our will. And we trusted them in it.
I think most of life is like that. There are these trees in our lives, places where God wants to give us the freedom to explore and enjoy. Sometimes it’s a place, but more often it’s a vocation or a ministry or a recreation or a relationship. Or an art form. And He is perfectly okay with us having fun there, so long as we continue to be obedient to Him, and follow His rules.
At the risk of sounding heretical, I think many Christians make too big a deal out of finding out God’s will. They pray about what job to take, or what vacation to go on, or how to handle a particular situation. And praying about these things are good and very necessary, really. But I think that our God cares more about who we are becoming in the process of doing, than in the doing itself. At least in my experience, the life decisions I’ve made through prayer were less important than the heart change that occurred as a result of my prayer and obedience to Him.
If that is true, then it’s not so much about what we accomplish—it’s more about who we are becoming. If that is true, then living life is only the byproduct—learning and growing in life is the product. If that is true, then the point of life is not just to go through it, but also to share the experience with God. If that is true, then we’ve really underestimated the freedom God has given to us in this life.
If we simply stay in His will, then we are free to experience life and grow in His love and grace, and to truly enjoy His creation through the millions of options available to us. We can swing from the branches, or build a fort, or launch paper airplanes if we want. The world, rather than an obstacle course we must suffer through before reaching heaven, is actually a part of the journey we get to experience with God in the here and now.
Now we all know God’s will. It is to love the Lord our God with heart and soul and mind more intimately each day. It is to invite God into our daily lives and move toward our spiritual growth, becoming the person He intends us to be. It is to obey His commandments and to follow His teachings. It is to not hurt each other or do bad things. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s God’s will. And so, if you’ve got that down, then everything else is just swinging from the branches.
I’ve climbed up there with them, you know. It’s harder for me, because I’m so big, and the tree sways a bit past the first few branches. And I can’t climb that high either, because the trunk get awful thin near the top. But the view from where I can climb is a beauty. And I feel pretty safe, really. Because I know, deep down, it’s a very good tree.
[Note: This is an excerpt from a book I wrote in 2003 titled, The Gospel According to my Kids. It was self-published, and written primarily for the children of my children.]