The Three Trees: a Folktale for Good Friday

April 6, 2007 | 11 comments
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Once upon a time, three little trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they would be when they were grown.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the night sky. “I want to hold treasure,” it said. “I want to be filled with gold and decorated with jewels. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked down the mountainside at the ocean far below. “I want to be a strong sailing ship,” it said. “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree said, “I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me their eyes will raise up to heaven, and they will think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!”

Years passed, and the trees grew. And then one day, three woodcutters climbed the mountain.

One woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful! It is perfect for me.” With a dozen swoops of his axe, the first tree fell.

“Now I shall be made into a beautiful treasure chest,” thought the first tree. “I shall hold marvelous treasures!”

Another woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong! It is perfect for me.” With a dozen swoops of his axe, the second tree fell.

“Now I shall sail mighty waters,” thought the second tree. “I shall be made into a strong ship fit for powerful kings!”

The third tree felt its heart sink as the last woodcutter approached. It stood straight and tall and pointed bravely towards heaven. But the last woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a dozen swoops of his axe, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter took it to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead, he cut and carved the tree into a simple feedbox. The once-beautiful tree was not filled with gold or decorated with jewels. It was covered with dust, and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree rejoiced when the wookcutter took it to a shipyard. But the shipbuilder was not thinking about mighty sailing ships. Instead, he hammered and sawed the tree into a simple fishing boat. The once-strong tree was too weak to sail the ocean. It was taken to a little lake, where every day it carried loads of dead, smelly fish.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter took it to a lumberyard, where it was cut into strong beams and then left alone. “What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop, grow tall, and make people think of God.”

Years passed, and the three trees nearly forgot their dreams.

But then one still and silent night, golden starlight poured over the first tree, as a young woman placed a newborn baby into the feedbox.

“I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.

The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the clean and shining wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew it was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

And then one humid and cloudy day, a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the small fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree sailed quietly out into the lake. But a thundering storm arose, and the second tree shuddered, knowing that it did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the fierce wind and rain.

The tired traveler awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said with a strong voice, “Peace, be still.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had began. And suddenly the second tree knew it was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

And then one terrible Friday morning, the third tree was startled as its beams were yanked from the old lumberyard. It flinched as it was was carried through an angry, jeering, spitting crowd. It shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands and feet to her. It groaned as the man cried out in agony and died. It felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

But at dawn the next Sunday, on the first Easter morning, the earth trembled with joy beneath the third tree, and it knew that God’s love had changed everything.

It had made the first little tree a beautiful treasure chest. It had made the second little tree a strong sailing ship. And every time people looked upon the third little tree, they would think of God.

That was even better than being the tallest tree in the world.

(This old folktale is my favorite Easter story; I can never get through it without weeping. A good illustrated version, the one we own, is here.)

11 Responses to The Three Trees: a Folktale for Good Friday

  1. lamonte on April 6, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Russell – Thank you for sharing this beautiful story to start my morning off on the right foot. For me it is an illustation of how all of us might at times be frustrated with the way our lives have turned out. But then, if wait and listen carefully, we see that God has used us for His purposes and it turns out that our lives have greater meaning than we could ever imagine. And thank you for the link to Amazon. I’m sure this will be a good addition to our collection of books to read to our grandchildren.

  2. Proud Daughter of Eve on April 6, 2007 at 8:50 am

    Thank you. You may have just saved my Easter lesson, which was driving me to distraction. ^_^

  3. Chad S. on April 6, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Thanks, Russell. I’m going to read it to my girls when they wake up.

  4. Matt W. on April 6, 2007 at 9:25 am

    we have a cartoon version of this. My daughter likes it ok…

  5. TMD on April 6, 2007 at 9:41 am

    A very nice story. It brings me in mind of another tree-centric expression of good friday, the anglo-saxon ‘dream of the rood,’ see for instance http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ballc/oe/rood-trans.html (modern english) and http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/library/oe/texts/a2.5.html (old english).

  6. Wilfried on April 6, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Beautiful, Russell. At the right moment to remind us of the essential things. Thank you.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on April 6, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for this Russell. We have loved this story at Christmastime, but I’ve never thought to bring it out at Easter. (Of course, ever since Dickens brought his Scrooge back to life on Christmas Day, our culture celebrates its doctrinal Easter at Christmastime, anyway.)

  8. manaen on April 6, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Rosalynde: Today is Christmas for us LDS types !

  9. Eugene V. Debs on April 6, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Russell–

    When I was a little boy growing up in a southwestern state dominated by Catholics, my incredibly orthodox, fifth generation LDS parents–dad was then a bishop and mom had been on the YW general board before her marriage–tried to teach me that crosses were bad, bad things. That displaying a cross on a church was like a family whose father had been killed by a drunk driver mounting a demolished ’76 Impala on their roof. They told me that Good Friday should be called Bad Friday because we shouldn’t ever be happy that Jesus was tortured to death like those misguided Catholics seem to be.

    Now I once again lives among Catholics, but my adult self has no issues with Good Friday, especially when the mealy-mouthed state institution I work for lets its wage slaves have a few days off for “Spring Holiday.” I also don’t think of myself as an overly orthodox Mormon–though that may be hubris–and I try not to get too worked up about people who read stories or poems about trees becoming crosses or Jesus carrying people down beaches in official or unofficial LDS settings. So when I read your tale above, my only reaction is “Man, that one would really send the parental units into a rage if some hapless Deacon read that one over the pulpit on Sunday.” But then I read the comments you recieved so far, and that leads to my question: Are my parent’s views about the cross outside the mainstream of Mormon culture? I had always assumed that they had jello-salad centrality, but now I’m not so sure…

  10. Russell Arben Fox on April 6, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    “Are my parent’s views about the cross outside the mainstream of Mormon culture?”

    Unfortunately, I suspect not, Eugene. But one can always hope.

  11. Rosalynde Welch on April 7, 2007 at 9:27 am

    LOL manaen, very true! Appropriately, temps here dipped into the twenties on the night of April 6, much colder than it ever got in December. Forget spring in midwinter, we’ve got winter in springtime. (And it’s gonna take a resurrection to bring my hostas and azaleas back from the frosty dead, I fear.)

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