The Nurturing Tree

Yet another story in the Giving Speaks series–Creating a Giving Culture–One Story at a Time–featuring guest author Dr. Jerry D. Wright*

The Nurturing Tree

Once there was a boy who really enjoyed a tree.

He enjoyed the roughness of its bark when he climbed it.

He enjoyed the springiness of its branches when he swung on them.

He enjoyed the crackle, the smell and the pillowy feeling of its leaves when he gathered them into a big pile and jumped into them, in the fall of the year.

He enjoyed the crunch and tart taste of its apples when he bit into its ripe fruit.

And when the sun was hot, he enjoyed sitting in its shade, leaning against its sturdy trunk, thinking about all the things he hoped to do and have and be as he grew older.

The tree enjoyed the boy, too.

She enjoyed watching him grow stronger, able to do more things.

She enjoyed his company.

She enjoyed being useful.

But there came a long time when the boy stayed away.

Then one day, he returned and said to the tree, “I need some money,” and the tree said, “Well, money doesn’t     grow on trees, but apples do, and you’re welcome to gather my apples and sell them for money.” The tree was delighted to have the boy climbing about, gathering the apples she’d grown. She enjoyed his company and she enjoyed feeling useful.

But then the boy stayed away for a long time, again.

One bright, sunny day the tree saw him coming toward her—older now—a young man—and she was very happy. She really enjoyed his company. She enjoyed that he was bigger and looked stronger than when she had seen him last.

“I want a house,” he told the tree. “A house to live in and raise a family. Would you give me your wood?”

“I’ll give you a few of my branches,” she said, “and you may ask my neighbors for some of theirs. If I gave you all of my branches, I’d have nothing to support my leaves. Without leaves to turn sunlight and water into food, I would die. But as long as you take only a few of my limbs, I can grow others; so, you’re welcome to a few.”

The young man thanked the tree and chose a few of her branches to make into lumber for his house. He also asked her neighbors, who gave him a few branches here and there until he had enough.

Then he built his house and enjoyed it, and was gone for several years, again, until one day the tree recognized him coming toward her—a man in his middle years now, looking healthy and having good energy—and he said to the tree, “I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have a boat to sail on the lake, and I’d like to have your trunk to use for a hull.”

The tree liked the man very much—had liked him since when he was a small boy, climbing her trunk and diving into piles of her leaves—but she liked herself, too, and she said, “I like you a lot. I’ve enjoyed you for years. But I have good reasons to say ‘No’ to your request. First, if I gave you my trunk, I would die, and while I like to give of myself and feel useful, I know better than to give myself away. Secondly, I’ve noticed that you only come around when you want something for yourself. Other than that, I never see you”

“Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a boat; you don’t have to have wood to make a boat. Fiberglass is a wonderful material for building a boat. Build yourself a boat of fiberglass. And come visit me from time to time.”

At first, the man wasn’t happy about the tree’s response. Always, before, she had given him at least some of what he had asked for. But then she was right. He did only come see her when he wanted something, and fiberglass was a perfectly good material to use for building a boat.

The more he thought about it, he realized that at first, he and the tree had been giving each other something, but that as time had gone by, the tree had been doing almost all of the giving and he had been doing almost all of the taking.

He decided to take his children to play in, on and around the tree. He also bought some seedlings and showed his children how to plant them, so that the seedlings would grow up to keep the tree company.

Like all living things, the tree grew older and older and finally died, and the keepers of the forest cut her down, leaving only her stump. The man grew older, too, and returned to the tree one day, only to discover that nothing was left of her, but her stump.

She could offer no shade to sit in—no sturdy trunk to lean against—only her stump to sit upon, so the old man sat.

He thanked her for being there when he was a boy, allowing him to climb her sturdy trunk, bounce upon her springy branches, eat her crisp, tart apples, and pounce into piles of her fallen leaves. He thanked her for the shade she had provided, and for being there to lean upon when he just wanted a place to think thoughts and dream dreams. He thanked her, too, for the limbs she spared him for building his house. And then, as he thought some more, he thanked her, most of all, for setting limits and saying “No”—for only allowing him to have some of her limbs—not so many as would have damaged her—and for telling him “No” when he wanted her trunk, which would have killed her. He also thanked her for pointing out that he had fallen into a habit of thinking only of himself—coming around only when he wanted something from her.

He thought a long time.

When it came time for the old man to go, he patted the stump and said,  “Thanks for liking yourself as well as you liked me. I think that liking yourself enough to tell me “No” was the best gift you ever gave me.”

The end.

*Dr. Jerry D. Wright preached his first UU sermon in Bloomington, IN, on merger Sunday, when the Unitarians and Universalists merged to form the UUA. Subsequent to graduation from IU, he earned his BD (later MDiv) from Crane Theological School of Tufts University. He was a member of the first class of DsRE to be granted the status of Ministers of Religious Education. In  1989, he earned his DMin from Meadville Lombard . He served in churches in Massachusetts while at Crane; after ordination, he served congregations in New York, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas, before establishing the Inter-District Office of the UUA in Indianapolis, from which he consulted with congregations in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and western Ohio. He retired from the UU ministry in 1995, and after retiring in 2010 from doing data analysis for a hospital, amuses himself with photography and the crafting of “magic” wands (see display photo below).  To contact Dr. Jerry Wright directly:

Resources for Environmental Justice & Stewardship:

Unitarian Universalist Association: What is Environmental Justice?

Green Sanctuary Program:

Ethical Eating Resources:

Climate Change & Global Warming information:

Sustainable Local Economies:

Resources for Nurturing A Healthy Culture of Giving and Generosity:                                                                                        

Giving–the sacred art (book by Lauren Tyler Wright) and Study Guide for Giving–the sacred art for small groups  (by Laurel Amabile)       

UUA Congregational Stewardship Services:

Forward Through the Ages (FORTH) Program:

Ecumenical Stewardship Center:  A Network For Growing Stewards

2 thoughts on “The Nurturing Tree

  1. I love this story. I teach middleschool, and this is a great way to open the discussion on selfishness vs. taking care of oneself. Thank you, I love the Nurturing Tree!


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