When I was nine years old, my family moved to the middle-of-nowhere, Texas. There, in the hundred-degree heat of my first Texas summer, I made friends with nature. Our new home was a worn, yellow house on two hundred scraggly acres of crackly grass, fields bristling with cedar, and low brown hills occasionally decked in wildflowers. We were deep in the country, a long trek away from groceries, neighbors, and the usual rounds of entertainment. Right at the beginning of our new country life, my mom made a momentous decision. Despite the bother of four restless little ones demanding entertainment, my mom resolutely refused the ease she might have gotten by long hours of indoor electronic entertainment. To our every protestation of boredom or loneliness, she brightly told us to “go outside.”
Out we went. The first day, a copperhead greeted us at the doorstep and the next day we encountered Texas fire ants in a dire sort of way. But we gained country savvy swiftly, and after those initial terrors came days spent almost entirely outdoors. We hunted butterflies in the far corners of the orchard, climbed trees, dug in my grandmother’s garden and came to know every inch of the cattle paths that wound through the cedars down to the pond. And we saw the stars; unfettered in the blackness of a rural night.
On the first cool evening, I sat on the porch and stared into the blackness as autumn crept through the fields. My little girl soul was abruptly overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. The scent of the air heightened my senses and for the first time, I connected the stars and wind, the beauty of the fields I had wandered, the fierce storms of the plains, and the endless black before me with the idea of eternity, with the God who made it all. I sensed something so much bigger than myself that I must be terrified or thrilled. I was, for an instant, afraid, but it was a fear born of awe, a wonder that filled my heart with a silent, childish amazement at the Maker of that world that haunts me yet.
I want every child to know that wonder. I want every child to feel their own delightful smallness next to solemn mountains or giant trees. I want every child to feel earth beneath bare feet, to stalk butterflies through tall grass, hear the click-click-click of grasshopper wings on a hot day. The problem is that many children are growing up apart from nature. Nature isn’t any harder to come by than it used to be, but screens are here in multitudes never seen before. The result of this is that childhood seems to be lived increasingly indoors. Technology, media, educational programs are certainly a gift, but ultimately, the world in which these things set children is an indoor world limited to a screen in a single room, small, controllable, containable.
To waken play, to kindle wonder and have it answered by beauty, children must be immersed in the beauty of a world far bigger than themselves. They need to be set amidst the story of creation so that the roofless space of the sky can widen their souls and call them to an adventure. They need the shout of starlight and the music of wind to show them beauty and teach them to hunger after it all their lives.
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Loren Eaton says
I have great memories of tramping through the Kentucky hills with my father as a child. It saddens me that it’s much more difficult to get out in nature in south Florida, where I now live.
Debi Z says
Sarah, I am so glad to hear that I inadvertently adopted your Mom’s philosophy 🙂 I’m just curious, how often did she go out too? I am trying to juggle 3 babies, lesson prep, etc. while having the kids outside as much as possible! Thanks for the encouragement!
James S. says
Beautiful thoughts! It’s amazing to already see in my 2 month old son that he loves being outside listening to the wind and birds and bugs, even in the city.
Joshua Duncan says
I ache for my kids to have that sort of experience. Thank you for writing about yours.
Julie @ Wife, Mother, Gardener says
“They need to be set amidst the story of creation so that the roofless space of the sky can widen their souls and call them to an adventure.”
So many children (and adults) miss the reality that we are part of this adventure story that God is living and telling, and I think that being out in the story is the only true way to make the story leave the realm of fantasy and shatter into our reality.
Samantha Nicole says
“I was, for an instant, afraid, but it was a fear born of awe, a wonder that filled my heart with a silent, childish amazement at the Maker of that world that haunts me yet.”
I still find myself spinning with arms out wide and grinning wide as the Mississippi when I stare into the heavens late at night after every sane creature has nodded off to sleep. There is nothing so awesome as standing below the star-speckled sky and feeling minuscule in comparison to the universe I’m a part of. And knowing that the Creator of it all takes the time to listen to the chattering of an amazed daughter gaping at the fruit of His hands.
Sarah – have you read ‘Last Child in the Woods’ – a thorough examination of what the author, Richard Louv, calls nature deficit disorder among North American children? Yours is a lovely, poetic reflection on the same, ‘to waken play, to kindle wonder and have it answered by beauty’ and you add the glorious possibility of ‘childish amazement at the Maker,’ to the joys nature contains. Lovely.
Jen Every Morning New Mercies says
Thank you for sharing, Sarah! We are currently living in a mid-west city at seminary. We are surrounded by the beauty of creation here and there are so many places for our four kids to explore. As well, we have a membership at the city gardens which are incredible! I’m so thankful that our kids have so much space to run and play and explore and imagine in this season of life. I hope that when they look back at their childhood years, that they too will be so thankful for the outdoors experience they were given!