After the hour-long drive home from my sister’s with my four very energetic kids, I had had enough! Trying to quiet down hyper kids while driving is not an easy feat. Not wanting to yell at them over and over, I gave up and succumbed to their antics, eagerly longing for our driveway. I called my husband and said I would need serious backup upon arrival; I was spent!
When I arrived home, I quickly passed the kids on to my husband and made a beeline for my place of peace: the river. My pastor husband had just finished leading a memorial service that day for a young man from the community who had been killed. In retrospect, I’m quite sure my husband needed some rest more than I did, but he gathered the children and let me walk away from the chaos.
It’s quite beautiful what the soothing rhythm of rapid waters can do for the weary soul. In a short five-minute walk, I was filled with peace as I was enveloped by the beauty of the river and the mountains. The river calmed me. The mountains comforted me. The fresh air cleansed me. In this place, I felt God’s presence and could rest. As I took it all in, this prayer became my heartbeat: “Lord, fill me today with joy in your creation, hope in your resurrection, and peace on your path.”
Since our family spent six years living in the overpopulated city of Manila, nature nearby is something I never take for granted. Living in Manila meant nature was hours away. Rather than a river and a mountain on either side of my rural town, in Manila I could find about 10 different five-storey malls within a few kilometres of my house. There was much I loved and now miss about the bustling city we called home, but the lack of nature found me wanting. When I would steal away an hour from the kids, the only place I could go to was a mall. I often longed for a quiet walk by a river to steady my soul.
We have likely all felt closer to God in nature and feel healthier overall when we spend time outdoors, but studies have recently proven this innate feeling. People who have higher exposure to green space are more likely to have better overall health.
The book Happy City by Charles Montgomery also shares about the impact of green space on building trusting relationships in neighbourhoods, presenting studies that show people trusted each other more in housing complexes that had green common areas compared to uninviting cement common spaces. We are created to be in nature, and the lack of it can be detrimental to our well-being, both individually and as a society.
With the colder and darker winter days this season brings, I find it really important to remember to get outdoors. While the river beckons us daily in the summer for fresh swims with friends, this season keeps us indoors more, feeling cosy on couches with a cup of tea.
But it is by the river that my soul finds rest and my mind feels most clear. It is in nature that we see God’s glorious beauty and feel his calming presence. It is amazing how God’s creation—whether a rushing river, a tree to sit under or a mountain to climb—can gather us into the presence of God and fill us with his peace.
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.