Everyday Christian: Just plant the tree

Instagram went wild this week with people posting photos of their pets with a sticker that read, ‘We’ll plant one tree for every pet picture’. By Tuesday the sticker – a digital image that users could add to their photos – had been pasted to more than four million photos.

Four million trees being planted sounded very exciting, although nobody was sure who it was that had created the sticker and promised to plant trees because clicking on the sticker led nowhere. (This happens when the original post has been deleted or it is a private account).

Nor did anyone know where they were promising to plant them. Or how. Or even why that was a helpful thing to do. In fact, it seemed like it was mostly about posting photos of their pets – in case anyone needed an excuse to do that!

On Thursday, Instagram account @plantatreeco claimed credit for the sticker with a post that began: “Thank you for sharing your pets, they’re adorable🐶”

It went on:

“We posted the new “Add Yours” story as a fun tree planting campaign where we can show off our awesome pets on Nov. 2nd! We immediately realized the post would grow too big and that we didn’t have the resources to plant that many trees, so we deleted it 10 minutes later. Even though we deleted it, a week later out of no where the stories continued to spread out of our control, reaching millions of reposts. Our credit for the post was also removed, because of what seems like an @instagram bug. We want to use this awareness for lasting impact, so we created this fundraiser. It is raising money towards @treesforthefuture which is an organization that we love, who is dedicated to planting trees. WE ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH @treesforthefuture, we are simply raising money through this Instagram fundraiser which will directly go to them, so that they can use it to plant trees. WE NEVER TOUCH ANY OF THE MONEY. Please share this post and the fundraiser on your story, and tag all your friends, celebrities, and @instagram so they can see this and so we can ACTUALLY plant 4 million trees🌲🌎❤️”

At the time of writing this article, Plant a Tree Co’s above-mentioned fundraiser for Trees of the Future has raised a total of $45,496.99, from the donations of 3,233 people.

So mystery solved? Not quite.

Since then, some reports have alleged Plant a Tree has a history of raising money for various causes without evidence they have passed it on. (I have no idea if that’s true, but I did check out that Trees for the Future is a registered charity that has submitted tax returns in the US).

ANYWAY. All of this got me thinking about how we humans have a tendency to overcomplicate doing the right thing because we are looking for the easiest way to do it.

I mean, apparently, four million pet-owners would like to see more trees planted – or at least enough to post a photo with a sticker.

But surely a good proportion of them could find the time and money to just get a tree and plant it themselves, right?

I assume the tree planting thing wasn’t about planting a tree just anywhere, but probably about planting trees in deforested areas. In either case, at least 3,233 people decided to donate to an organisation that does exactly that – on the back of the pet sticker fiasco.

How many of them would have responded to a simple post encouraging them to donate to plant a tree, I wonder.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. (Proverbs 3.27)

All this reminds me how complicated I sometimes make following Jesus. How I put unnecessary steps between my inaction and doing the good thing that Jesus asks of me. Or how I try to speed it up and find the easiest route, and often even before I have taken the time to understand why it matters.

If I’m honest, there are probably times when God finds me like an Instagrammer who needs a pet-posting challenge to go viral before she obeys. Quick to look for a shortcut, keen to outsource my effort, always trying to avoid paying a cost, digging out a space. Hesitant to commit to watering the thing until it grows.

Do you know that proverb that says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3.27)? Well, I suspect I keep my hands tightly clenched more often than I would like to admit.

I really don’t want to be someone who requires God to catch my attention by doing something novel or creating a trend. I don’t want to be so fickle that I am looking for a fun entry point to get involved with what God is doing. I want it to be enough for him to simply make his will clear in the Bible.

It makes me think of Isaiah’s prophetic rebuke to the Israelites when God says he is over their offerings and feasts and just wants them to do the basics: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1).

I’ve never been a fan of people who want to emphasise how ‘simple’ Christianity is. To me, it always seemed to be either a cop-out for lazy people who don’t want to talk about the Bible’s complexities, or a way of shutting down legitimate and normal doubts and questions about faith. In contrast, I have discovered great comfort and delight by delving into Christianity’s complexities.

But this week, I have been reminded there are aspects of my faith I just need to keep simple. And when God asks me to do something, I need to hear the request and respond with a yes.

(Lest I become the Jesus-following equivalent of a dog-photo-stickered Instagrammer who didn’t actually manage to plant a tree this week.)