The pandemic has taught us lots about our mental health, and our surroundings. What’s more, it’s taught us the two are very much linked. For instance, working from home has had its perks, for sure, but the isolation, the confinement, and the monotony have been real too, and made their presence felt.
This year’s theme
That nature is the theme for 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Week therefore comes as no surprise. Out from over a year of such isolation, confinement and monotony, so many of us have grown in our appreciation of the way nature can give us that lift, that boost we need to get through the day.
The Mental Health Foundation’s video for the Week (running 10-16th May) says:
“Nature can’t solve all our problems, but it can really help put things in perspective, take the pressure off, and bring calm, joy and wonder to our daily lives. So it can be helpful to try to prioritise getting close to nature.”
As Christians, we can wholeheartedly affirm everything in that quote. What the quote misses however, is the why – why is nature so good for our mental health? Did you know the Bible is actually full of references to nature and our connection to it? Let’s take those three examples from the quote above – that of putting things in perspective, of taking the pressure off, and of bringing calm, joy and wonder – and see if the Bible can give us a deeper understanding of why nature is so important for our wellbeing.
Perspective – flowers of the field
“Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NLT)
It’s funny how often a walk, a run, or even just stepping out into the fresh air can help us clear our heads, isn’t it? We enjoy the beauty of nature, and it nourishes us. But perhaps there is more going on…
David, writer of the verses quoted above, looks at nature and realises his life is a breath, like a wisp of grass or a beautiful flower – verdant, beautiful and commanding one moment…and gone the next. David was a man with wealth and power, but who also faced a fair few problems in his lifetime. Looking at the fragile, temporal beauty of nature helped him to have a right view of himself and his life. Wealth and power would not last forever, and his life – and the challenges he faced – were a part of something much bigger, an ever changing process of passing and renewal.
A look at nature can help us to focus on what’s truly important to us, on what we can meaningfully achieve here and now, and what we must leave behind. For the Christian too, as David goes on to write, while our lives may be fragile and fleeting, the knowledge that our God and His love are strong and everlasting helps us honestly face the reality of our lives.
Pressure – birds of the air
“Look at the birds of the air; 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26-27, NIV)
Even before the pandemic, anxiety was a big problem in our society. We often live frenetic and uncertain lives where the pressure to simply stay afloat can sometimes feel overwhelming. And the experiences of the last year have not helped curb this growing issue. Yet anxiety is certainly not simply a modern problem.
Two thousand years ago, we read above of Jesus telling his followers not to worry. Jesus’ method? Look to nature. Jesus points to the birds and says, ‘God knows their needs and he provides for them. If God is willing to do that for the smallest of sparrows, will He not also do that for you?’ Jesus is not promising that nothing bad will ever happen to us in life, but that God is there, caring for His children; He knows exactly what we need and will provide.
A look at nature can therefore remind us that the whole of creation is under God’s loving care, and His children – along with all they are going through in life – are not alone, nor forgotten. They hold a special place in His caring heart.
Wonder – stars of the sky
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4, ESV)
I remember learning at a museum that there are at least 2 billion galaxies in the universe, each having anywhere between a million to a trillion stars. Some studies suggest there could even be up to 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. As a young Christian I remember thinking, If Earth is the only place God put humankind, why did he create such a vast universe with so, so many stars?
The answer that came to me was wonder. The vastness of space, the mindboggling quantity of stars in the sky just made my heart explode in wonder. A simple look up into the night sky can produce this sensation every time. What a marvel, what a wonder the heavens are, and so what a wonder this God who created it all must be.
But this wonder is twofold – for as the verse above says, if God created all of this, that vastness, that dazzling display that stretches into infinity…who am I that He would pay me any attention? And yet – wonder of wonders – He does! God is deeply, intimately interested in us, so much so that in Jesus He came to die for us, that we might live eternally with Him.
Connecting with nature, connecting with God
Is it any wonder that God’s created world would be a great way of connecting with Him? It’s no surprise then that in the Bible there are so many calls to look at nature. A simple look can tell us so much – that life is fleeting and fragile, but God is strong and everlasting; that God cares for the smallest of creatures and so is fully capable of caring for you and me; and that only a wonderful, marvelous God could create such a wonder-filled world, where the greatest wonder of all is perhaps how much He loves us.