I’m a homebody. Or rather a “housebody.” My preferred place is indoors, especially at my own house. But what if, in God’s plan, he meant me for more?
I love being in my kitchen when it’s filled with food, drink, and conversation. I love spending a quiet evening playing games or doing jigsaw puzzles beside a fire in our family room. And I love my corner recliner where I sit with my morning coffee and read God’s Word, pray, and meditate on ideas and concerns, big and small.
In my house, I see God—mostly in the people who live and gather here. I grow closer to him and understand him better in my personal study of the Word and in the Bible study discussions that happen there. I hear what God is saying. And yet something is missing between page and mind, between words and heart. I worship, I lean in. But I can’t quite hear. I long for what I miss.
I am startled by the realization of what I have missed one day as I ride my bicycle on a new path, further from my house. The paved trail suddenly plunges me into a darkened, quiet wood. Here, away from the street noise and joggers and meandering walkers of my usual path, I’m struck with a sense of awe. I coast to a stop and let my feet slide from pedals to ground, hands relaxing from their grip on handlebars. I bathe in the silence. I gaze in wonder at the tight cluster of soaring butternuts and black maples that surround me. A breeze stirs, rustling leaves and cooling the damp hair at the nape of my neck. The words of John 3:8 come to mind, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I hear, I whisper back.
At home, I read in God’s Word about how he cares for me. How I am not to worry about what I eat, or what I wear. I read that I am not to be anxious about anything but to give my worries to God for him to address. This is true, I think. I believe. But I worry anyway.
And then out on a walk during my lunch break after a spring storm, I see a male robin poking his beak in the newly emerging grass. His head pops up, a plump pink worm wriggling against his chin and breast. He eyes me carefully, giving a few short hops before flapping away to his nest carrying his bounty. All along my walk the happy sounds of bird twitters and chirps fill the air, a chorus of satisfied creatures reaping the bounty of what the rains have brought. “Look at the birds of the air;” I’m reminded. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26). I believe.
In my comfy chair, I read the parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son. I ponder and I pray. I understand that God longs for all to turn to him. I ask him to bring specific individuals into his fold. I mean it, but the thoughts and the prayers feel hollow somehow.
Later I visit a farm in Ireland overlooking lush, rolling hills. The scenery is a feast for the eyes, the air a balm to my lungs. A sheep herding demonstration makes me marvel at the intelligence of a hard-working border collie who can guide an unruly mass of wooly animals around a field with uncanny precision. I laugh at how the sheep bump into one another and sometimes stare dully into the distance as they munch on whatever greenery they can find. I think about how Jesus refers to humankind as sheep and how like them we can be in our bumbling and disobedience.
But then the farmer invites us to hold a lamb. I take the warm little creature into my arms and hold it against my chest. Its legs are spindly, its eyes a tender brown that match its furry coat. In my arms it feels vulnerable, helpless. So reliant on the farmer’s care. I imagine it out in a field with the others, bunching close for protection. What if it got lost and was on its own out there, even on those inviting green slopes, wide open to any prey that might seek it? Suddenly I grasp more surely what Jesus meant when he said, “Doesn’t the [shepherd] leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (Luke 15:4-6a). Is not this tenderness I feel toward this helpless lamb right now what the Father feels for us, I think. I understand.
The more I spend time in nature, the more I realize that God means for me—for us—to not only spend time with him in our houses and the buildings we have created to gather as congregations, but to also commune with him in his creation. That this earth and all it contains that was made by God, is not merely a container for humankind. It’s not a placeholder standing in for the heavenly home we’ll one day enjoy, or the new Heaven and Earth to come. Nature and creation are part of how God means to connect with us. We, though unique as image-bearers, are also creatures given this particular place in which to live and move and experience God.
Without an awareness of, and connection to, the natural world, we shortchange our spiritual lives. God did not set mankind in buildings from the start. He set them in a garden, amidst the trees and vegetation, upon the rock and soil, in the company of birds and insects and creatures galore. He gave us this setting in which to come to know him better and experience his character and show us his attributes. And then, to be sure we understood at least some of the ways in which his imprint rests on his creation, he gave us illustrations through stories and parables in his Word.
I’ll always gravitate toward climate-controlled environments and revel in relaxing in my comfy chair. But I’ve heard God’s call from the wild. And I understand that I must, each day, push open my door and venture into the outdoors where I can learn the deep things that his creation has to teach me.
“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).