This post is by Cheryl Gilbert.
Do you ever feel like opting out of a meeting or a social event? My kids wish they could opt out of school or sleeping, and I have a deep desire to opt out of folding laundry! Life is full of things that we cannot opt out of, but what if one decision to opt out could make the others more bearable? Actually, it can; it’s time to opt out of staying inside.
You’ve probably noticed feeling calmer when you take a walk outside. Maybe you’ve experienced heightened creativity or longer attention span after spending time in nature. Whether you realized it or not, you’ve likely felt the effects of blood pressure decreasing and oxygen supply increasing. In addition to these noticeable changes, your brain chemistry actually changes as well. Just one of the biological reactions to walking outside is that your brain decreases production of the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases production of endorphins and serotonin - chemicals that make you feel better.
Studies have proven that being in nature makes us feel better while we’re there, but also has measurable, long-lasting benefits (increased focus and memory, reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and depression, etc.). The list of physiological and neurological effects of time spent in nature is long, and there are significant spiritual benefits as well.
Brain science can teach us a great deal about how God knit us together, and nature can reveal much about God Himself. We see evidence of His creativity, power, attention to detail, and even humor - I mean, how funny is a duck-billed platypus?! We are led to and joined in worship by all creation. We are reminded that God provides for the least of His created things and assured that He will provide abundantly for us.
David writes in Psalm 19:1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge... Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world...”
David understood something that science cannot prove: God’s creation itself proclaims His glory. Nature calls out to us in an unheard, universal language that reaches to the ends of the earth, revealing knowledge of the holy. How great a gift that nature sings God’s praises to us even if we cannot sing it ourselves.
Job 12:7-10 declares, “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.” Here we learn that all creation will teach those who listen that we are in God’s hands, and that nothing is outside His authority.
These passages, along with Psalm 96:11-12, Psalm 145:5, 1 Chronicles 16:33, and others, tell us that all of God’s creation speaks, extolling His majesty. Since nature itself worships its Creator, it’s no wonder that we feel better when we opt outside, and that the effects are both spiritual and physiological.
Some of us find it easy to get outside while others may require a bit of ingenuity. Consider taking your morning coffee on a walk around the neighborhood. Return phone calls from local trails. Take a laptop outside and walk along the patio during webinars. We can experience an increase in mood-boosting endorphins in as little as ten minutes spent walking in nature. Twenty minutes can lead to a significant decrease in fatigue and increase in creativity, focus, and memory. Ninety minutes in nature actually lowers activity in the prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain associated with depression. While a long walk in the woods might be ideal, it’s not always feasible, so Iet’s do what we can. Let’s opt out of inside, and ask God what He wants to show us while we’re there.
Cheryl Gilbert is a loving wife, proud mom, amateur writer, voracious reader, beach fanatic, California expat, and - most important - Jesus follower, living in the Pacific Northwest. She is a cancer survivor, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Enneagram 3w2, and Children’s Ministry Administrator at her church - all things she’s passionate about sharing. Cheryl feels closest to God and most grounded when near the water, and treasures her front porch writing spot with a peek-a-boo view of Lake Sammamish.
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