pretty woman, young, female

Healing Grace: Connecting with God Outdoors

After our 21-year old son, Jarrod, was killed in an accident, our house loomed large and empty. Our daughter had started her own family, and years before, Jarrod’s brother, Chris, had succumbed to cancer as a teenager.

So, we sold everything, and decided to escape outside. We went from a 2100 square foot home to a 450 square foot RV. Unloading a 4-bedroom house with 25 years-worth of stuff was a rebirth to a new way of life—one spent largely outdoors.

connecting with God outdoors
Harvey the RV and the Green Beast

Somehow, it felt that God would hear our cries of grief more clearly if we surrounded ourselves with His creation. Connecting with God outdoors could be where we found our healing.

“When I consider your heavens,

    the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

    which you have set in place,

 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?”

Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

We spent a summer in the mountains, wandering and gazing at waterfalls. While we cried for our sons, we experienced the majesty of thundering water and dancing butterflies. I meditated upon the promise of the new heavens and the new earth.

connecting to God outdoors
Rob and our dog, Marley, at Triple Falls in North Carolina

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

Isaiah 65:17 (NIV)

I imagined our Chris and Jarrod fishing and swimming in the river of Life. I was comforted by thoughts of eternity and its unimaginable beauty. It was easier to do this when surrounded by nature.

My favorite memories with our boys occurred outside. I cherish a special winter trip with Chris when we sledded down the side of a mountain at sunset. As we shared a breath-taking view of snowy peaks bathed in pastel shades, Chris turned to me and said, “I’m glad you’re my mom.” When Jarrod was in kindergarten he entertained me by leaping into the pool shaping his body  like the letters of the alphabet. 26 leaps later, we were laughing and splashing each other. Both boys grew up playing on the beach and laughing in the sun. When I’m outside, those memories echo in my soul and whisper of eternal promise.

Jesus Modeled Connecting with God Outdoors

Jesus knew those feelings when he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Sometimes referred to as the garden of agony, this is where Jesus expressed his vulnerability to God the father. He shared both His pain and His willingness to submit to God.

While the Garden of Gethsemane is probably the most well-known example of Jesus praying outside, it is only one of many times that our Lord sought peaceful outdoor time alone with His father.

“After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone,”

Matthew 14:23 (NIV)

“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”

Luke 5:16 (NIV)

Throughout the gospels of Mark and Luke we are told that Jesus often went to lonely places and prayed. In the wilderness, Jesus found the strength to resist the devil. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus appeared in all His radiant glory. When the crowds became overwhelming, time and time again, Jesus sought to be alone with His father, outside.

This is a beneficial habit that we should not underestimate. Instead of mulling things over at a desk or a table, try taking it outside. Much of the country is enjoying the beauty of fall right now. What a perfect time to start the same healthy routine that Jesus himself relied upon.

Not surprisingly, scientific studies support what Jesus modeled for us. Being outdoors can improve blood pressure, boost mental health, improve memory, and decrease cancer risks. One study showed that participants who spent time in the forest lowered their heart rate and their cortisol levels. Among office workers, those with a view of nature reported less depression and higher job satisfaction. I believe that God designed us to enjoy the outdoors, and when we retreat to our fluorescent-lit cubicles and our tiny screens, we suffer spiritually as well as physically.

A Magic Trio, Prayer, Exercise, and the Outdoors

Combine prayer, the great outdoors, and  the well-known benefits of walking and you have a great self-care strategy.

 You also have a scenario where you can fellowship with the Lord.

People have asked me many times over the years, how I manage to keep functioning after losing two children. I tell them about my magic combination of prayer, exercise, and connecting with God outdoors. I also tell them that I know exactly where my boys are. Sometimes this leads to an opportunity to share the gospel.

“They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works”

Psalm 145:5 (NIV)

For a season, we camped on the bay in Southwest Florida. I kayaked through mangrove tunnels where herons and egrets perched. Occasionally, I was treated to glimpses of manatees and dolphins, as I marveled at an ecosystem so carefully knitted together.

The author, Maribeth, enjoying the mangrove tunnels in Sarasota, Fl. where they live.

learned that if you get close enough to a hummingbird you can hear it squeak. And you can hear the call of a sandhill crane 2 miles away. Most importantly, I learned to be still and know that He is God.

My soul craves the perfection of unspoiled nature with its proximity to God’s original intent. A sun-drenched copse of trees or the serene ripple of water always make me sigh with gratitude.

When we ended our RV adventure and decided to settle down again, I wanted a place with a view of nature. My husband, Rob, wanted the condo with the updated kitchen. But the view looked out upon the community pool’s restrooms. “No way,” I said, “You can upgrade the kitchen, but you can’t upgrade the view.”

Like most intelligent men, Rob acquiesced to his wife’s wishes, and now we can sit out on our lanai and gaze at a canal full of turtles and waterbirds. The occasional alligator adds a dash of excitement, reminding us that the Lord’s ways are indeed mysterious.

We are blessed to live in a community with 14 miles of trails, where my dog and I enjoy our walk-runs several times a week. I am a former marathon runner who used to take herself way too seriously. Now my motto is “The older I get, the faster I used to be.”

I pattern my outdoor exercise after Philippians 4:6: (NIV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

As I jog along, I begin by praying for others, including family, struggling friends, and the leadership of our country. Next, I petition God for protection and success in my writing ministry or whatever challenges I am dealing with at that moment. Finally, I conclude with an attitude of gratitude—gratitude that thanks to Jesus, I know where my boys dwell; gratitude that in my mid-sixties, my knees still allow me to jog and play tennis; gratitude for the love of a good man; good friends; a lovely place to live, and all the food I need.

A bit of sweat and serenity go a long way.

Especially outdoors, in the Lord’s creation.

Maribeth Ditmars has authored 3 books and has just released a new faith-based book about her family’s struggles with adversity and loss. It is entitled Dancing in the Minefields, One Woman’s Faith Journey through Child-Loss, Addiction, and Adversity. Maribeth blogs about these topics from a Christian perspective, and she also enjoys speaking. Maribeth loves to remind  others that, “Laughter and tears are only a moment apart, but joy is eternal.”

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.