It is a classic getting to know you question usually reserved for rainy day distractions, sleepovers and awkward summer campfire time. And it goes something like this:
You are walking along on a beach and find a lamp. You rub it (because really that is the first thing I do when I find a random piece of home décor) and out pops a genie. The genie says he will grant you three wishes. Which leads to the classic question:
What do you wish you for?
And as I am writing this I immediately have to stop and ask myself that question.
What do I wish for? The list looks like this:
Poverty and war all over the world to cease
A pain free life
Sick free family and friends
And an unlimited vacation fund
(I know, that is more than three. I will make the cut later.)
I look at my list. Not too bad. I throw in a little altruism alongside the classics of good health and long life. Add a little fun.
But something sits uneasy in me as I write this.
Is that what I would really wish for?
When you set aside the genie, what the question is really asking is what matters to you? What is in your heart of hearts? It is a powerful thing to discover about someone.
Taking a look at the list again, I am not sure that would be my final answer.
I am sure about other things though. One of them is how much I love trees. I really do. They are extraordinary. And beautiful. They stand the test of time. They withstand storms, provide shade and are an awesome addition to movie sets and paintings.
I have a special place in my heart for fruit trees, especially orange trees. Orange trees blow my mind. Think about it. One tiny seed burrowed itself in the ground, sprouted, grew, grew bigger and started making fruit. And not just any fruit, but fruit that comes in convenient made-for-us slices! I mean, come on. They are already SLICED for us. And that sliced fruit comes with more seeds! So one tree can produce many more trees if given the opportunity. Anyone else floored by that? Just me… okay, moving on.
How did the seed get there? How did it succeed when others failed?
I find myself asking myself the same question.
There is a classic parable about this. Told on flannel graphs across America.
For those unfamiliar, the parable goes something like this. A farmer scatters seeds on different types of soil and of the four types only one type produces a tree that bears fruit.
(I need to pause here. Who is this farmer anyway? He is either a madman who doesn’t realize where he is throwing his seeds or a loving optimist who wants to give everyone a chance. Things to ponder another time.)
Now, in my tradition one definition of fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
So, how do I live a life full of that kind of fruit? What type of heart, or soil, do I need to have?
When reviewing this parable again it reminds me in an uncomfortable way of my wishes that I would have the genie grant me. Something is not adding up.
In the parable, the first type of soil the farmer scatters seed on is rocky soil. Birds circle around and swoop in before the seeds even have a chance. In the explanation given, the rocky soil represents a heart that hears something but doesn’t understand.
What did I ask for with my first wish? I rattled off what any respectable beauty pageant contestant would.
But then what? What happens when the wand is waived and world peace is suddenly achieved? Peacemaking is often times the result of awful horrible excruciating never-ending conflict. It is learned. Painfully so. I could ask the genie to end poverty and war but my guess is that without any understanding on how to sustain that peace in a New York minute everything would change back again. What good would my wish do? Peace without understanding would be fleeting, never given a chance, even if we did sincerely want to obey the lyrics of that 60s song sung by protesters everywhere. Peace, like the seed that fell on the hard ground, would never take root and be stolen by those that seek to destroy it.
Strike one for my wish.
The second set of seeds fare better than the first. They fall on rocky soil. These seeds get to sprout. The only problem is, they don’t have any roots and at the first sign of a hot sun, they wither and die, having no reserve to draw from.
Roots are painful. They just are. When you think about it, these are the parts of the plants that are the least desirable. They go AWAY from the light and dig further into the dark earth to find water. And it is this journey into the darkness that makes it possible for survival. Without them, at the first sign of trouble, the plants are goners.
I would be a goner too if I was granted my second wish. I could wish for a pain free life filled with happiness. It is my right. It is even says so in our US constitution for goodness sake. (A wonderfully weird addition by the likes of Adams and Jefferson.) But again, then what?
Quick fixes are just that. Quick. How many of us have started on a quest of our own only to quit at the first sign of trouble?
When you are too tired for the gym.
When you get into your first fight.
When you made a spiritual conversion and then your life fell apart.
If we go into life thinking everything is going to be fine, if we go in blinded until we are REALLY blinded by the blazing sun, we won’t amount to much. The struggle, the roots, are painful yes, but necessary. You could even go as far as to say they are for our protection.
At this point I am noticing a pattern. There is a progression here. The first set didn’t stand a chance. The second fared only slightly better. What about the third set?
The third set of seeds fall on the ground surrounded by thorns. They go into the ground, take root and grow and then tragically fall short of producing fruit.
How sad. The thorns represent the cares of this world and the lure of wealth. Or, to put it in layperson terms, worry and money.
This set is probably the most tragic of the three failures. The seeds have a good start. They have made it through trials and tribulations. Victory is near.
But it is not the lack of understanding or an instantaneous event that derails them.
It is hanging on too tightly to this side of heaven.
For us our weeds come customized. The newest car. The latest cell phone. The double health insurance. The extra long hours at work. We want to keep up with the Jones and their neighbors. It’s botox and gated neighborhoods. It’s hate-filled radio. Or sermons.
It is the comfort of being able to buy everything we need so we don’t need to depend on ANYBODY for anything.
It is trying to control life and doing everything we can to protect ourselves.
It is the slow daily decisions we make to operate out of fear instead of love.
And it is so prevalent and subtle we don’t even know it is happening.
I think an affluent society is a weedy one.
And it is easier to blame society than to look in the mirror.
Back to my wishes. I believe I had two more, what were they? Ah yes, an unlimited vacation fund and… sick free friends and family.
The trouble with cares of this world is that they don’t care.
They show up anyway.
So I am batting zero. Which brings me back to the question. What kind of heart do I actually need to bear fruit? What is really important? Clearly I need help and don’t understand.
Solomon understood. Solomon was the son of King David, the leader of ancient Israel. And when his father died Solomon had an encounter with God that is probably the closest anyone has ever been to actually having the hypothetical genie situation happen.
Basically God says ask whatever you wish and I will give it to you.
Can you imagine? God coming to you and saying I will give you WHATEVER YOU WISH? WHATEVER?!? The endless possibilities! That is offering the Holy Grail! Maybe literally. There at your fingertips is a worry-free peaceful life in a peaceful world full of everything that could make it enjoyable. God granted and guaranteed!
And what does Solomon ask for?
Not wealth or absolute power or dominion over his enemies or even world peace. Nothing like that.
And when I look back at the parable it makes sense. You need wisdom to receive understanding. You need wisdom to know this too shall pass, hard times come, don’t give up and keep going. You need wisdom to tap you on the shoulder when you are holding on to something too tightly or making little compromises that could end up having big consequences.
Without wisdom, fruit is impossible.
And what my friend Sol knew and I didn’t is that it takes humility to ask for it.
He was looking up from his knees. I was just looking around.
He asked God not to change his circumstances but to form his character.
He knew that in this life, this side of heaven, that is what we really need.
So I ask myself again, what kind of heart do I need to live a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
A wise one.
So where do we find wisdom? She is certainly plainer than her sexy twin folly.
She can be hard to spot because most of the time we aren’t looking. We associate wisdom with age and reserve it for wise monks who live on mountaintops and wizards in far off lands.
But wisdom is for all of us and can be found everywhere.
In friends, lovers, strangers, sages, books, scriptures, music, poems, intuition, experience, prayer.
Or maybe we can take a page out of Solomon’s playbook and just ask.
Alright Mr. Genie, let me try again.
Eyes to see
Ears to hear
An understanding mind
And a changed heart
And yes, I know, that was four.