God’s Footprint in Nature
August 1, 2020
by Maria Fontaine
God’s Footprint in Nature
No matter what topic I write about, one of the challenges I face is presenting the points in a way that will relate to as many of my readers as possible. This post where I focus on the important role that nature plays in our lives is no exception. Many of us have frequent opportunities to be in nature and to enjoy many of its benefits, and if so, this post might be a reminder of the importance of incorporating more of this valuable asset that the Lord has blessed us with into your schedule. But for others, the prospect of getting out in the great outdoors may not be much of an option. In that case, you might feel a little frustrated or unhappy that as much as you want to, you just can’t spend the time you would like in God’s creation.
If getting out into nature seems like one of those “impossible dreams” for you, please don’t despair. These benefits are still very much worth reading about as a reminder of God’s great love and care. You can reframe this from something disappointing into a reason to ponder the wonders of the God of love and goodness! Furthermore, in part two on this topic, I’m going to present some ways that we can still reap significant benefits from nature in spite of possibly being in a restricted situation.
If you’re able to, a walk through a lush forest or a picturesque field of wildflowers or a stroll along a sandy beach can help wash away pressure, stress, negative thoughts, or worries. You can even find an impressive array of benefits from relaxing in your backyard on the porch or terrace or under a shade tree, as a gentle breeze helps to soothe away the tensions of your day.
There’s something intangible about nature that can calm our spirits if we take the time to allow it to do so. It can have a positive impact on everything from our eyesight to our overall health and mental state.
You might think, “That sounds nice, but only God can do the things you’re talking about.” And yes, you’d be right! Only God can do this, but He often uses the creation that He has made with so much care to be part of the healing, regenerative process.
Pause to watch the Creator as He paints the sky with the vivid colors of a sunrise or sunset. As we watch in awe, our stress, ragged nerves, and weariness of spirit can start to fade. Unfortunately, though, for many of us in this fast-paced, stress-filled, artificial world, the wonders of God’s creation all around us seem to be some of the easiest things to overlook.
The pressures of life can be like a fast-moving river that sweeps us relentlessly onward! It takes effort not to be carried away by the currents of pressure and stress and the fear of missing out on something. Just staying afloat can gradually drain our strength, and eventually we have to break free of its force or we’ll be pulled under. We have to make the conscious effort to keep fighting to reach the river’s bank, that place of calm and peace where we can regain our strength.
Taking time in God’s creation is one of the major ways we can intentionally break free from a stress-filled life. The Lord has recently been speaking to me about revisiting the topic of nature’s importance in our lives.
Of course, we know that heaven will be filled with many good things like beauty, music, praise, color, peace of heart and mind, and eternal life, but in His great love, God offers us a foretaste of heaven here in this world. Often, we forget to take time to use the senses that He has given us to see “the heavens declaring the glory of God; and the firmament showing His handiwork.”1
I’ve always loved the word pictures in the Scriptures that so aptly describe the wonders and realities of God. I’ve also praised the Lord along with the many songs, old and new, that describe Him in terms of the beauties in nature. I want to do that even more.
When I was growing up, two of my favorite things to do were to lie in the grass under the tall trees in an old, no-longer-used cemetery, and to walk with one or two of my friends along a stream through the woods. I loved the beauty I saw and the countless sounds I heard. I felt enraptured by the fragrances that enveloped me. There was a sense of peace and contentment, and I felt like God was with me and my problems were far away as I shuffled through the leaves or leaned against an old log to rest.
The simple pleasures of being held in God’s arms as a child or teen gave way to new treasures as I grew older, and I realized that the wonders of our God that are often manifested in His creation go so much further than just what our five senses can measure. Now, when I meditate on this wonderful gift of His creation, the Holy Spirit is able to use it to illustrate many spiritual principles and to help me to understand how to apply them in my daily life.
Seeing how God’s plan is interwoven into every strand of the tapestry of life, from the simplest of organisms to His ultimate creation of humankind, confirms His compassion for us. It strengthens my faith in His love that brings peace and beauty, strength and healing, and even turns the negative things in this world into a greater good in the end.
The vast range of diversity found in nature parallels how God created us. There’s something for everyone, every taste. Every perspective on life is manifested in a way that will capture the interest of someone. There’s always something that can inspire someone to know a little more about God if they are willing to.
God offers us constant reminders of His glory, majesty, love and wonders in many ways, including through His creation. I love to take the phrase from the opening line of the well-known song2 by John Denver, which says “You fill up my senses,” and begin a prayer to Jesus with it. When one of my co-workers heard me comment about this line from the song and how I often use it to begin my prayers, he showed me a quote from John Denver’s wife. She said, “Initially it was a love song and it was given to me through [John], and yet for him it became a bit like a prayer.”3
The first stanza of this song is a beautiful tribute to the glory of God’s creation. It says:
You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again.
That is so fitting, because that is what God often does for us through His creation—He fills up our senses with reminders of His presence.
Jesus expressed something similar in this way:
People benefit from a connection with the rest of creation. You draw inspiration from the sunlight, the clouds, the stars, and the moon. When you’re in nature you take in a whole range of benefits from the plant and animal life around you. Your emotions are uplifted by the sights, smells, and fresh air that nature immerses you in. Even the colors around you affect your emotions and can have a positive influence on your bodily functions.
In fact, even being reminded of something beautiful in nature triggers positive reactions in your body. Nature is not simply there for the sake of food, clothing, and shelter. It manifests My power and glory, which can uplift your spirit, calm your nerves, release stress, and help bring the negative things in your life into a better balance. That is very important to your well-being, just like the fluids and all that the womb contains is essential to the life of the baby.
Humankind has created many artificial environments in this world, which cannot provide all that you need, but instead cause added strain on your body and mind. This can take a toll on your emotions and health, which can result in such things as disease, anxiety, depression, anger, and mental illness. People need a connection with Me to fully flourish, and one important source of that connection comes through nature. When cut off from nature, man tends to become isolated, lonely, and depressed. Why? Because you were not meant to live in isolation from the rest of My creation.
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Maria: We can see the positive impact on our lives when we are in God’s creation. Nature is a part of the blessings He has bestowed upon humankind, and He intends it for our benefit and well-being. Many studies have shown that existing in a mostly or totally artificial environment can have a detrimental effect on your body, mind, and spirit.
Below is a list of points from various studies on the influence that nature can have on our well-being.
- Exposure to nature not only tends to leave you feeling better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well-being by increasing oxygen levels, activating beneficial hormones; reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension; and hindering the production of harmful stress hormones.4
- Being in nature can help improve your short-term memory and working memory.5 (“Working memory” refers to memory that your brain provides quick access to, which is retained from several hours to a day or two.)
- Exercising in a park instead of inside a gym may provide mental health benefits such as a greater sense of well-being.
- Walking for 20 minutes a day in a green space has been shown to help children with ADHD improve their concentration as much or more than medication.
- People who live in more natural settings tend to have better overall health, even when research has taken into account economic differences.6
- Nature can help us cope with pain. This was demonstrated in a now-classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a plain wall. The patients with the view of trees generally experienced less pain, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative side effects, and on average spent less time in hospital.7
- Spending three days and two nights in a forested area was shown to significantly increase the number of immune cells in the body, while inversely decreasing stress hormones.
Phytoncides, a volatile chemical released from trees, may also play a role in boosting the immune system.8
- It has been shown that there can be a decrease in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms after exposure to nature.9
- Children exposed to nature tend to show increases in creativity.
- Nature can provide a calming influence and help in concentration.10
- When inflammation goes into overdrive, it's associated with a wide range of ills, including autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cancer. Spending time in nature may be one way to help keep that in check.
- In one study, students who spent time in the forest had lower levels of inflammation than those who spent time in the city. In another, elderly patients who had been sent on a weeklong trip into the forest showed reduced signs of inflammation. There were some indications that the woodsy jaunt had a positive effect on those patients’ hypertension levels as well.11
- Being outside may help protect your vision, for example, one of the most serious risks to our eye health comes from something called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which occurs when we spend long periods of time in front of our laptops, desktops, tablets, and smartphones. This can be vastly reduced by spending more time outside, allowing your eyes to focus on objects further away. Being outside also appears to help nearsightedness, when you are in a natural place free from artificial light.12
- One intensive study of 280 participants in Japan found that along with decreasing stress hormone concentrations by more than 15%, a walk in the forest lowered participants’ average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by just over 2%.13
A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found a similar connection: greater exposure to a natural environment was associated with a 12% lower mortality rate. The biggest improvements were related to reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease.14
Maria: Science is discovering and acknowledging more and more of what God has blessed His creation with. As many truths as they have come to understand, scientists are only beginning to uncover the astronomical realities of this physical world.
God has placed an endless expanse of wonderful things around us to discover. Let’s enjoy the adventure as we search out the marvels of God’s footprint in nature.
1 Psalm 19:1.
3 “Annie’s Song: Background,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie%27s_Song#Background.
8 https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7#being-outdoors-has-a-demonstrated-de-stressing-effect-2. Also https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/07/10/forest-bathing-really-may-be-good-for-health-study-finds/#579ce454508e