Tears spilled down my cheeks as I drove home from church and pulled into my driveway. I had just experienced a wonderful Sunday morning service—great songs, great sermon, great people—and yet somehow, it left me feeling completely distant from God. With my head bent over the steering wheel, I tried to pray, but no words came.
My spiritual life had been running on fumes. Busy with raising kids, running a business with my husband, and attending church and Bible studies, I hadn’t realized there wasn’t much “left in the tank” until my last child left home. Suddenly, the house was quiet, and I had more time to think about my faith and my relationship with God. It hit me that I’d equated busyness with growth and hadn’t slowed down enough to truly connect with Him on a deeper level.
That morning, as I stepped out of the car and walked into my yard, I knew I needed to do something different. I’d always felt close to God in the outdoors and thought maybe I should try spending time with Him among the trees, the dry creek bed, and the fields that surround my house.
I had recently adopted a miniature donkey named Henry, and it occurred to me that I could take this small, shaggy animal with me on my walks outdoors since he was learning to be guided by a lead rope. I had no idea what a life-changing activity those walks would become. Slowing down and stepping outside to connect with God and nature transformed my life.
Here are five benefits of carving out time to spend in creation with the Creator:
1. It teaches us about God.
Francis Bacon, whom some consider to be the father of modern science, once said that God has written two books: the Bible and creation. Both tell us about Him, and yet, when was the last time you heard a sermon about mountains, rivers, trees, or animals?
When we take time to go out into creation, we’re inevitably reminded of our Creator in new ways as we experience the power of a thunderstorm, the stillness of a meadow, and the delight of a wildflower. Nature preaches a fine sermon about the very character of God without saying a single word.
2. It reprioritizes our time.
Like frogs unaware they are being slowly cooked, our lives have become increasingly frantic and fast-paced—often without our knowledge or consent. By stepping away from our screens and schedules and into a world where time is measured by seasons and tree rings, we’re able to reclaim our sense of purpose and meaning.
Connecting with nature reminds us to take our feet off the proverbial gas pedal so we can reevaluate our priorities and become better at saying no to activities that fill our calendars with busyness but leave our souls empty. It helps us reconnect with our values.
3. It lowers stress.
Recent scientific studies show that time spent in nature lowers stress levels. In fact, in addition to medication, doctors in Scotland can now “prescribe nature” to their patients who are dealing with stress and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Time spent in nature can measurably help people by lowering cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone) and increasing their sense of well-being and overall happiness.
4. It inspires awe.
Observing nature’s majesty provokes a feeling of awe: that sense of wonder when we encounter a mountain vista, a towering tree, or the scope of stars in a night sky—and feel small by comparison. However, even the smallness of a leaf or a tiny caterpillar can cause the same sense of wonder—a feeling that actually changes the human brain.
Awe makes us more creative, better at solving problems, and allows us to think “big picture.” It can invite curiosity, cause us to feel less entitled, and even make us more generous with others. It almost goes without saying that awe opens our minds and hearts to an infinite God who creates and sustains His creation.
5. It makes us physically healthier.
Walking outdoors provides much-needed exercise as an antidote to our largely indoor, sedentary lifestyles. We are likely to increase our vitamin D levels as we’re exposed to sunlight (important for calcium absorption), improve our immune systems through breathing in airborne plant secretions, and boost our energy. Actively spending time in nature improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, and increases our ability to control pain.
Slowing down to connect with nature gives us the opportunity to recharge physically and mentally, and it provides the space to reconnect with God in the process. For me, it was transformational.
The woods became my cathedral in which to worship, the pasture became my prayer path, and my miniature donkey became my spiritual companion. Together, they inspired me to begin all over again with renewed faith and a rekindled sense of God’s presence.
Sometimes the change we need most can be ignited by something as simple as stepping outside.
Rachel Anne Ridge is the author of several books, including her upcoming release, Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path. A professional artist and designer, Rachel has also served as a writer for Going Beyond Ministries with Priscilla Shirer. She blogs at http://rachelanneridge.com/, where she encourages women to find joy and beauty in their daily lives. Rachel is married to Tom and the mother of Lauren, Meghan, and Grayson. She makes her home in Texas.
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