There is a small park where I used to go to think. I was 26 and living with my parents at the time. The park was about a half-mile from their house, and I would drive my mobilized scooter there. (Yes, like the scooters old people drive. I have cerebral palsy, and the DMV hasn’t trusted me behind the wheel of a car yet!)
It was a rough time for me. I had just gone through a bad breakup, and it was made worse by an inability to see my own faults. I refused to see all the ways I messed up in the relationship. I played the victim; life wasn’t fair. So I would go to the park, sit on the swing, and cry to God. I would tell him all the ways I was hurting. I would beg him to snap his fingers and make things normal again (in this case, “normal” meant “dysfunctional”). But it didn’t seem like he was listening.
Under the Fig Tree
There’s a story in the Bible about when Jesus meets a young man named Nathanael. (You can read it in John 1:43–51.) Nathanael was the know-it-all, cynical type. He had a chip on his shoulder, much like I did.
Eventually, Nathanael crosses paths with Jesus. As Nathanael is approaching, Jesus calls out, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
This was Jesus’s way of putting Nathanael at ease. Jesus was saying, Nathanael! Now here’s a real straight-shooter. This guy tells it like it is! (That’s the MMV translation of the text — the Michael Murray Version.)
Nathanael, stunned by Jesus’s greeting, asks, “How do you know me?” And the answer Jesus gives is incredible.
The answer Jesus gives is good news for anyone who ever sat crying on a swing in a park.
The answer Jesus gives is good news for anyone who needs a little hope. (Are you ready for it?!)
Here is how Jesus answered Nathanael:
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:48)
Huh? What’s the Deal With That?
Okay, that might seem a bit anti-climatic. When I first read Jesus’s response, I thought I had missed something. So I went back and reread the passage. There’s no mention of any fig tree before this. So what’s the significance of it? After reading a few commentaries, I came to a realization: the fig tree has no significance!
Well, it has no significance to me.
Only Nathanael knows what happened under that fig tree. Just like only I know what happened on that swing in the park. Maybe Nathanael sat under that tree every day and cried out to God in anger. Maybe he expressed all his doubts. Maybe some girl broke Nathanael’s heart, and he cried and cried under that tree. Maybe that tree represented Nathanael’s pain and brokenness.
Whatever happened under that fig tree, Jesus saw it. Jesus saw Nathanael in his most real, vulnerable moments. And he loved him. He accepted him.
As I thought about this story, I wondered what it would be like to hear those words from Jesus. I imagined Jesus telling me, Michael, I saw you while you were still on the swing. I was there in the pain with you. In the mess. And I loved you in it.
And you know what? Looking back a decade later, I can see that it’s true. He was right there with me in that park. He never left my side on that swing.
Jesus Sees You
So, what about you? Where is your “fig tree”? The place where you cry out to God, where you express all your hidden secrets, doubts, and fears?
Where do you unleash your anger? Your frustrations?
Where do you go to release the flood of tears?
I had my swing. Nathanael had his fig tree. Where do you go to stop pretending and crumble into a mess?
Wherever it is, don’t lose hope. Jesus sees you. He’s there in the pain, in the mess, in the brokenness. And he’s loving you in it.