I woke up yesterday on the second day of 2020 and prepared to go for a run, since I had resolved to start exercising again. The outside temperature was 32 degrees, almost enough to convince me to stay inside. However, last night I heard a guy talking about how we live in an artificial world and seldom interact with things in their natural state. Think about it: you wake up in your 72-degree bedroom, drive your toasty car to work, sit in your climate-controlled office, maybe go lift some weights at the gym or run on a treadmill, and then return to your warm home. Not only do I seldom spend time in the real climate, on a normal day my feet don’t even touch dirt. It’s flooring to concrete to asphalt to flooring.
This is rough on my soul. I have a friend who likes to cycle, and we were talking about indoor cycling trainers. You know how we described riding one of those for two hours? Soul crushing. However, a two hour ride on country roads would be life giving. Would you rather go for a two hour hike or walk on an inclined treadmill for two hours?
The crazy busy lives we live in this artificial world are making our souls more shallow. I have started digging into some teaching on rest, restoration, and taking care of your soul, and many of these teachers talk about how hurried, hectic, distracted and fractured our lives are. I started contemplating what gives my soul rest and when does my soul feel most connected to the Father. For me, getting into nature helps shut down my mind enough to let my soul breath.
The realization of all this teaching was enough to get me out the door and into the frosty day. I didn’t turn on a podcast or music, but instead just ran. My heart and soul were crying out for something real. I felt the cold air in my lungs and the pavement under my feet. Wait, pavement, ugh, that’s not natural. Then 1.5 miles into my run, there was a trailhead for mountain bike trails off of the paved bike/running path. My mind said “stay on the paved path because you could hold a faster pace” on the smooth flat surface. But my soul said, “I need this.” So I took a right turn onto the mountain bike trails and my soul rejoiced. The uneven terrain, the frost on the branches, the deer jumping up and running - these were real. The Father was saying “welcome to my creation.”
As I continued, I kept seeing places that looked great to sit: a large rock by a stream or a log just the right height. So I paused. I stopped my watch and sat. I took long and deep breaths and soaked in the real world. The deer on the hill, the sun rising in the East, the sound of a stream. It was refreshing; no, it was restoring me to the life that was all around. It wasn’t my kids fighting, the GIFs in a group text, or deadlines at work fast approaching. It was creation; it was real. I felt the Father saying to me, “This is what I have for you in 2020. Rest in me, and I will restore you. I will settle your soul. Just rest in me and pursue me. Come find me here in the real world. Your hands might get cold. You might twist your ankle on the trail. It might rain. But those are the moments when I will give you what you need.”
It is crazy to think that I am just realizing the effect that being out in nature has on my soul. Last year, I was training for a 100-mile race so I did two long runs every weekend from December through April. I couldn’t skip the runs because I knew I needed the training to survive the 100 miles in April. I had to run in the rain and snow. Looking back, I recognize how my soul felt alive in those times. How deep the conversations were with my training partners as we slogged out the miles in the 4 am rain. But after the race, I retreated to the artificial world. Back to treadmills and gym workouts.
For most of us, the real world has been replaced by an artificial and digital world. Our idea of resting is binge-watching Netflix. We need to think about what this does to our souls. Have you ever finished watching a series and said, “Ah, I feel so restored, like I have been with the Father.” Are we losing our ability to have deep conversations and connections because our souls are becoming more shallow? Did you even have the attention span to make it here to the seventh paragraph of this post? We need to listen to our soul when it is crying out for a quiet walk by a stream. I know it is something I am working on. One cold run at a time into the real world.