Forming faith rituals
We’re currently in our second year of doing #1000hoursoutside.
Whenever I tell people we’re doing it, some people say: “Oh yes, we probably do about that each year.”
“Really?” I ask. “It’s just over three hours a day every day, including the days when it’s super cold, windy and raining.”
“Ah yes,” they say, “probably not then.”
Others say: “Wow! That’s a huge goal! How on earth will you do that?”
I shared here about how I find being outside is a form of worship. But there’s more!
I can’t help thinking that when God made earth and put us here it wasn’t just because we needed somewhere to live, a place to grow food and build homes. It’s because actually being close to nature is good for us, it helps us be the humans God created us to be. It’s interesting that in the creation story in Genesis 1, God doesn’t just plop humans into the world, but gives instructions on how to interact with it, how to care for it and be in it.
For us modern humans, we’ve mostly delegated those tasks, but I think where we can get outside and connect with nature, maybe through gardening or going to the park, bike rides in woods or playing on the beach, we start to benefit physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, just as God intended.
I think God created our world not just as a home for us, to give us resources to use to build stuff, but actually as a place for us to spend time, to rest, to recalibrate, to be restored, to be whole. So many Bible verses talk about the natural world being a place where people meet God, be it the burning bush in Exodus 3 or the streams of quiet water in Psalm 23. Jesus himself went away into the wilderness aka nature to be alone (we assume with God).
I’d like to suggest that being in nature is a good, God-given place for us to be. Many of us know this instinctively, but few of us place enough importance on the goodness in nature provided for us by God to invest time and effect spending extensive time in nature.
Personally, I find it motivating to get an idea of what the benefits are. Here’s some I’ve found:
1. Being outside is good for our physical health
It brings direct health benefits (eg better breathing, improved sleep, a stronger immune system, healthier heart and even better vision) and motivates us to move more and eat more healthily, which then gives even more benefits! Studies have also shown a correlation with living longer.
2. Being outside is good for our mental and emotional health
Personally, I find that just stepping out in nature for 20 minutes is enough to help me and my children get a bit happier. Even the reluctant, heel-dragging ones! This is because being outside improves our mood, but it also relieves stress, help us take time out and feel more relaxed, improves confidence and self-esteem and improves our focus, short term memory and creativity.
3. Being outside is good for us socially
Being outside helps us meet and get to know people – often walking or playing alongside someone is a really helpful way to do this. It helps connect us to our local community, reducing loneliness and providing support. Ever seen people walking their dogs?
4. Being outside is great for different neurotypes
People with ADHD often find being outside gives them space to ‘let off steam’ and decompress while those with autism or sensory issues may find it’s a helpful space to be with others but away from them at the same time. Please note that this isn’t true for everyone and, of course, there are often many barriers for people with disabilities to get outdoors. It’s always good to ask questions to find out what helps people and what assistance they might need to join in an activity.
Top tips for spending more time outside
Schedule it into your diary.
Meaning to do something rarely works. Booking it in works much better.
Do it with friends.
Arrange to meet friends outside at parks, local woods, the beach or nature reserves.
If possible take hot food and drinks in flasks, especially on colder days or evenings (see below for some detailed suggestions).
Get good outdoor clothes.
Think footwear, thermals, thick socks, waterproof coats (and maybe trousers too), hats, gloves and scarves for cold days. I went to the beach in April and it was impressive how many people were wearing woolly hats!
Set a goal.
And mark off how many hours you’ve done each week. It doesn’t have to be #1000hoursoutside, but setting a goal helps motivation.
Do some research.
Find out some of the ways being outside makes you healthier and write them up on the wall to remind you why you’re doing this.
Ideas for spending time outside together
Put breakfast on a tray and take it outside
I find making something hot like porridge or hot chocolate also helps, especially in early Spring mornings. We each throw on a big jumper or blanket and snuggle up with our warm breakfast and a story – it’s always a good way to start the day. Science tells us that there’s distinct benefits of getting outside as soon as possible after we wake up to make our body clocks work well, encouraging good sleep that night.
Search online for the 10 best parks in your area and challenge yourselves to visit them all within a set period of time.
This is a fun way to see a place and possibly meet people you might not otherwise. My children have done this and created their own bespoke way of rating each park, including things like whether there’s a playground, if it has equipment for children of different ages, whether it has litter bins, graffiti, benches etc.
Up your game with picnics.
Having great food means we can spend more time outside and enjoy it more. My sister is Queen of Picnics, and introduced us to the amazing hot-dog picnic – simply put boiling water in a large thermos and put the hot dogs into it when you’re out. Let them warm through then plonk them in hot-dog buns and add ketchup! Amazing! (Make sure the hot dogs are heated through!)
Go for 30-minute walks.
Remember how we did those every day in lockdown? It was one way we kept sane, wasn’t it? You could try reinstating these walks and see what they lead to. Having an easy target of 30 minutes every day could lead to lots more time!
Get out your bikes.
Now this isn’t really my bag, but my children love it and it’s a fab way to go further afield when you’re outside. You could also use scooters, which are often easier for younger children. Remember to take water and snacks!
Get a fire bowl.
Or just use your BBQ. Sitting outside round a fire is a wonderful way to spend lots of time outside having fun.
Remember – this isn’t a task to add to your list, but rather a challenge to tweak your life to allow you to experience more of the (free) benefits of the world which God has created.