Last week, I got to go on a trip to one of my absolute favorite places… the MOUNTAINS! I have always loved the mountains. Everything in the mountains is so extremely beautiful that it is surprising it’s even real. The first full day of the trip, my friends and I went on a hike up a huge mountain. Right before we left for the hike, we discussed all of the important things to know if we were to encounter a bear. After this discussion, I honestly felt terrified (it doesn’t take much to scare me). My eyes were peeled and I was ready to face whatever came our way during that hike. But you know what? We never encountered any bears. Instead, we encountered God’s beauty present in nature. In fact, it wasn’t long into the hike that I completely forgot about encountering a bear because I was fixated on the beauty around me. The sounds of nature were soothing. The gentle breeze was perfect. The trees reached up to the sky towards their Creator. It was a kind of moment that reminded me of the gift of life.
With each year that passes, I find more appreciation for nature. Not that I have ever not appreciated it, but there have been times when I didn’t grasp the full beauty of it all. It probably also doesn’t help that every time I step outside, I have a sinus attack (haha). But seriously, nature is a gift. Just as we are made in the image of God, creation also reflects the image of God. In my opinion, being in nature is a form of worship. Think about it. Worship presents itself in anything that points us to our God… which is exactly what nature does. It is a space in which we are completely surrounded by what God created. God calls us to be in community with other people, but God also calls us to be in community with the other parts of creation. Every aspect of creation makes up characteristics of who God is. If we want to discover more about who God is, then we have to be open to God’s presence that is all around us.
You might be wondering why I’m going on a whole tangent about nature. Well, I’m here to say that it is an important aspect of our spiritual lives. God had the intention of us being in relation with the whole world around us. We can learn and grow from all of creation.
When I get stressed, I always try to go take a walk outside. It simply calms me down. It allows me to gain some fresh air and to gain perspective. This past fall, I went into quarantine due to COVID. Thankfully, I never ended up having it, but quarantine itself was not easy. I remember after my quarantine ended, I was mentally drained. I had little motivation, and more than ever before, I was ready for the world to go back to the way it used to be. I was angry at the turmoil and divide this global pandemic was causing. I was sad because of all the isolation people were feeling. I was devastated with all the loss due to the virus. And quarantine gave me way too much time to think about these things. Right after my time was finally up, I went on a walk in downtown OKC at the Myriad Gardens to clear my head. For the first time in what seemed like forever, everything felt better. Even though the world we once knew had completely been flipped on its head, nature was still worshipping God. The birds were still chirping. The flowers were still beautiful and pointing upwards towards God. And after that walk, I felt at least a tiny bit refreshed. I felt a tinge of hope.
There are several different things that nature provides to us. Whether you’re an outside person or not, I think it is good to know the gift that God has given us through nature. I mean if you don’t like the outdoors you can always appreciate it from inside the comfort of your car or house, but I do think a little walk outside can go a long way.
- Nature can give us a sense of distance from our stressors. When we get away from the loudness of the world, sometimes we can find some clarity. In fact, sometimes we are more apt to listen to God in these moments. I have found that some of my most relaxing moments during the school year are off-campus, in nature. I’m able to realize that although the things I’m stressed about may have a temporary affect on my life, they do not define me. For example, in my life, being in nature and having time to think clearly has often served as a reminder that God doesn’t want me to carry all of the weight of my burdens alone. God truly did not intend for us to carry this weight that we often carry in life. It is the world, our society and the expectations that intend for us to carry these weights. We need to surrender the pride of doing it all on our own and instead seek the help that we can receive from our Creator and the people around us. The hard decisions we are having to make, the expectations we place on ourselves, or even the anxiety that is pressing upon us are not issues in which we should suffer alone. The distance that nature provides from these stressors provides me with clarity that can help me to resort to these sorts of conclusions. I am given more clarity and rationality that I wouldn’t receive otherwise. In the loudness of the world, we can lose the sense of truth.
Think about being in a large crowd. When we’re stuck in a large crowd, if you’re a little introverted like me, it can be stressful. We can’t hear our own selves think. People are pushing and tugging us every which way. People are angry at others who are standing in their way. Some people are going with the flow one way while others are trying to fight to go the opposite way. That is how our lives can be at times. It can be loud and intimidating. Stepping out of the crowd (getting away from our normal) can be the thing that allows us to breathe and think clearly. How are we supposed to gain any clarity when we can’t even hear ourselves think?
- We can literally breathe better in nature. I mean unless you have allergies. But seriously, studies show that trees reduce levels of some pollutants. Simply being in a space where we can breathe better can help to calm our minds. God intends for our minds to find rest. Our minds aren’t made to be constantly going and going and going. They are designed to also take a breather. Breathing has such a huge impact on our mind. It can significantly reduce the amount of stress we are experiencing. Plus, good things are produced from taking the time to breathe. In the Bible, so many good things are formed from God breathing them into being. Let’s look at some examples.
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. – Genesis 2:7
The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33:4
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host. – Psalm 33:6
These are just a few examples of all that God’s breath/spirit creates within Scripture. Considering how much the Bible emphasizes God’s creation from breath, I believe we are told of just how important it is for us to breathe. In order to produce good things, we have to remember to take a moment to breathe. If you have a huge work project coming up, better work will be produced from taking the time to breathe. Same goes with a making hard parenting decisions, handling relationship conflicts, or really any other problem we’re facing. Taking the necessary time to breathe is a vital component that helps us in taking the next step. Breathing is essential. And nature is a great reminder of the importance of breath.
- Many studies have been done over nature that have shown its significant impact on a person’s well-being. In one study, there were sixty participants that were randomly assigned to either take an urban walk or a nature walk. The participants who took a nature walk had a significant decrease in anxiety, a better working memory and an overall positive affect on one’s outlook on life. This tells me that God does not intend for us to disregard nature. Instead, nature is an aspect of life that God designed us to need. It is there to help us in both our spiritual and everyday lives. Nature cares for us more than we know. I mean, without it, we literally couldn’t live. I think that sets things into perspective for us. It shows us how powerful the world around us is. Nature is ultimately one of the biggest reminders that there is something way bigger than you or me out there. It shows that there is something bigger than the decisions we make, the problems we face, or the stress we struggle with. Eight years ago, yesterday, in Moore, Oklahoma, everybody’s temporary problems seemed small as an EF5 tornado whipped through destroying everything in its path. Nature sure has a way of setting things into perspective.
Throughout this next week, take some time to concentrate on the big world around you. Let it sink in that you are living on an Earth that is bigger than the things that we face. Ultimately, just allow the world around you be a gift. Let it remind you to take time away from your normal, to take a second to breathe, and to change your perspective.
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.” – Job 12: 7-10