I’m going to argue that there is a real Christian benefit to spending time alone in nature. To some that may seem obvious, to others it may conjure up images of mystics in caves, granola munching hippies, or just the discomfort of sweat and bug bites. Now, you may be wondering, “what does this have to do with Christian productivity?”
I began writing this post from a campsite in the mountains where I stayed for a weekend entirely alone, save for the company of my dog, while my wife was visiting family. And that experience turned out to be extremely beneficial for me mentally, spiritually, and (yes) even in regards to my personal productivity, both during the time away and when I returned.
And in all of these experiences, the unusualness of it was that I had no one to share them with, except the One who wove it all together. Kim and I very much enjoy hiking, camping, and the outdoors. We love to experience creation together, but when I was alone in nature, my natural desire to want to comment on the beauty around me was funneled directly to the Maker. So, I spent much time in prayer as I explored, and in the moments of rest, I found myself in the Word or in the handful of Christian books I brought along (having no internet was a blessing). And when I returned to civilization it was like my mind had gone through a hard reset. I was ready to tackle my work with renewed purpose and vigor.
Time in creation is not time wasted. If you are anything like me, perhaps you tend to feel guilty when you take a break. There is so much to be done, how on earth can I justify a weekend alone in the woods? But I am convinced that spending time in God’s creation helps to create a margin for rest, refocus, and worship.
One of the primary benefits that time in nature affords is a chance to rest from the pressures of life. Putting the demands of work and home on hold for a few days or weeks can actually equip you to better meet those demands when you return.
In David Murray’s book Reset, he notes how often we can make ourselves feel guilty about resting and offers a path towards a better balance in our rest and activity. We cannot operate without breaks, Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Proper Christian productivity is not a peddle-to-the-metal race toward burn out. Getting more done is not the hairy, frenzied, business mindset of “do more, do more, do more.” A right view of time-stewardship must involve both maximizing momentum and planning for rest.
There is something about even just a brisk walk in the woods by yourself that does wonders for the soul. I think time in nature is good for everyone, but there is a particular benefit to the believer who knows the One who made it all. There is a special sensitivity to the Lord in those times as our minds drift rather seamlessly back and forth from deep thought to prayer.
Related to rest is the added benefit of refocusing. Time in nature tends to disconnect you from not just the noise of traffic, work, and home, but also from that digital noise that so pervades our lives these days. Practically speaking, if you go out far enough, you probably won’t have cell service. And you might be surprised how a little time away from your smartphone can help your mind to refocus.
Don’t worry. Facebook will be there, with all its banality, when you return.
Ironically, this disconnectedness helps us to reconnect with what is important. For example, in these times away and alone my mind tends to wander to questions like, “Why am I doing what I am doing? How am I laboring for the Kingdom? How can I be a better spouse/employee/man of God?” These are necessary checks that simply get washed out of our lives by the crashing waves of busyness.
I recently wrote about how we need to think about our time in the Word as more than just a chance to learn something, but also to be reminded of what God has already taught us. The fact is we are forgetful people. And I have found that time alone in nature has a revealing effect. You strip away the distraction and the demands for a few days and you are left with the terror of being alone with your thoughts. It is there that we begin to remember what was once important to us, but has been slowly pushed to the side by the tyranny of the urgent.
Could you have written Psalm 8?
The Psalter has so many passages extolling God for His work of creation. How do you think those insights and worship came about for the writers? Did they sit on their laptop googling images of “Cedars of Lebanon”? Probably not. They experienced God’s handiwork and turned to praise Him for it. We too are right to pause and enjoy general revelation, because it reveals the power of God (Rom 1).
We live in a time where so much of our interactions with nature are mediated. A desktop background of a grassy field or a scroll through your Instagram feed is not the same as being there. Watching a nature documentary may get you closer images of animals, but it is not the same as seeing them with your own eyes. Sometimes even while we are out in creation we put the objective of snapping a good picture above our own enjoyment of the sights.
Andrew Peterson has an excellent song titled “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone” which harps on the instinctiveness of worship in response to seeing God’s handiwork on display. I was in Yosemite National Park a few weeks ago and I kept finding myself uttering involuntary thank yous under my breath with each new vista. If for no other reason, spend time alone in nature for the opportunity to worship the Creator as you enjoy his creation.