I’m not an outdoors person. At least, that’s not how I have ever described myself. After all, I’m not fond of bugs or dirt or rocks, and the outdoors holds a plethora of each. But recently I wondered if I should stop refusing to wear that title. Because my denial might not be entirely accurate. It turns out what draws others outdoors has a similar pull on me. Or maybe in my case it’s not “what” but Who.
Outdoors people are athletic or at least focused on physical pursuits. They love hiking, swimming, fishing, and hunting. They itch to get into open air and work up a sweat, throwing themselves at the natural world with muscular delight, singularly focused on the activity of the moment. They speak of how they feel released from the distractions of everyday life and reinvigorated by the movement of their bodies.
I’m decidedly not athletic. Breaking a sweat is not my idea of a fun time. My muscles shout their annoyance when I push them to do more than a long walk around the block or some gentle yoga moves in my family room. But when I climb onto my bicycle and slowly thread my way along wooded trails near my home, catching the scent of lilacs and lindens in the breeze, I forget that I’m exerting myself.
Following Nature’s Pull to God
Out on my ride my senses are heightened, fully present to the God who created the trees and infused the shrubs and flowers with their fragrance. When I glide along a river pulling at the oars of a kayak to skim under the drooping branches of a mangrove tree, or pause to float while water striders skitter across the surface beside me, I’m following the pull away from everyday life and into a space set apart.
Quotidian concerns drop away in my absorption with nature all around me. I am like a cup that has been sitting beneath a faucet waiting for the tap to open and water to flow to its rim. Filled and renewed. Immersed in the outdoors, I momentarily become like those of whom it is said, “But they that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Trying to Avoid the Inhospitable Outdoors
Outdoors people flow with changes in weather, at times exulting in snowstorms and wave-frothing rainstorms for the opportunity they provide in their aftermath to participate in activities like skiing or surfing. They seem impervious to frigid temperatures and soaking rains. On occasion they even seek out inclement situations to test their limits and face forces larger than themselves.
I’m a fair-weather gal. I prefer the climate-controlled comfort of a well-insulated and properly heated home. To me the outdoors is downright inhospitable. Windy days exhaust me with their constant battering and forceful pushes. The spiky chill of winter pursues me with stabs at my gloved fingers and booted toes until I flee inside for the protective warmth of fleecy blankets. Yet I also revel in the hush of a January evening after a snowfall, when a fresh blanket of snow dampens footfalls and passing cars alike, and the air feels clearer, as if rinsed by the frosty precipitation. In the wintry quiet there is an invitation to let the hum in my head settle into silence to match it. And in that invitation I sense the One who was not present in the gale of wind nor the rock-shattering earthquake nor the scorching fire, but who came to Elijah in the form of a gentle whisper. The One who tells the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Outdoors people go camping to experience rugged living. Hiking to campsites, fishing for their dinner, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping on the hard ground.
When I camp it is in a pop-up trailer on a cushioned bed far above the ground, with running water and electricity, cooking my meals on a gas stove. Yet like my rugged-living campground neighbors, I get to absorb the oaky scent of burning logs and hear the hiss and pop as flames expel moisture from wood. I fall blissfully asleep to murmurs of late night campfire conversations with the flickering glow of firelight reflecting off tenting above me. Most of all, like nature enthusiasts, I too revel in the sight of a dome of stars freckling the night sky by the hundreds and thousands. In moments like these I understand what the writer of Psalm 8 thought when he wrote, “when I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:3-4).
Embracing God’s Invitation to the Wild Places
I have never considered myself an outdoors person because I don’t fit the stereotype of someone who delights in the physical pursuits available in the earthy settings of our world. But then I remember another descriptor often given to those who prefer open air adventures: “nature lovers.” And in that I recognize myself. Because that name also fits those who answer the call to leave indoor comforts to delight in the evidences of God. It fits those who respond to invitations into wild places not made by man to experience God’s presence through what He has created. It encompasses people who bask in natural wonders and fill their souls with the awesomeness of God on display. And when I consider those manners of interacting with the outdoors, then it becomes clear that the name “nature lover” speaks of me too. I’m a nature lover because I love the Maker of the natural world. Ultimately, I am an outdoors person, albeit a quieter, slower, more delicate one. Because it is in the outdoors where I most often experience God’s nearness.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20-22).