To view my first post in this series, click here.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.” —Horatio Spafford, 1873
In the midst of this unprecedented, worldwide quarantine, I hear rumors of another disease that is taking over the minds and bodies of those of us who have been confined to our home indefinitely. It is very contagious, and it knows no real boundary. It can germinate in the young and the old, human and animal, regardless of the quality of their diet, the state of their health, or the nature of their lifestyle. Shelter in place policies do not prevent its spread; in fact, such policies are known to greatly multiply those who suffer with this debilitating disease. The cure is well known, but often neglected, since many who suffer are unable to identify the source of their discomfort.
I am not talking about a virus or a mutated, deadly bacteria. This disease is so widespread that a good number of us have been carriers more than once, with different levels of severity.
I’m talking about cabin fever.
Yes, my falsely threatening description was intended to be funny, but if you’ve ever been unable to leave your home while you wait out a blizzard, a hurricane, or chicken pox, you have probably experienced the feeling. If you’ve been sheltering in place for the last 40-some days in the company of your beloved children, spouse, or pets, you’re probably fighting cabin fever right now. Symptoms vary, but for me it starts when the particular quirks and habits of my kids that I can usually let pass begin to elicit a crazy-sounding scream. Now that we’ve been at home together, 24/7, for 46 days, it’s more like an extremely itch rash that makes me want to crawl out of my own skin. And if it’s this bad for a self-proclaimed introvert and “homebody,” I feel sorry for the extroverts out there. Zoom meetings just don’t cut it for extroverts, I’m sure.
There’s nothing like a deadly virus mutation covering the entire world to make all of us appreciate the outdoors a whole lot more. So I am returning, finally, to my series A Call to Stewardship, which I began a full year ago with an introductory post and a free download offer, but failed to follow through with. With warm spring weather, bright sunshine, and singing birds returning here in southern California, there is an awakening in me as well that has made the closure of the many public parks and hiking trails in my area pretty frustrating. Springtime calls me outside and bathes me in hope, and every bone in my body yearns for more natural beauty until I become overwhelmed with the vastness of it. Of all the antidepressents I’ve tried, fresh air is my favorite.
There are a lot of different perspectives out there on how we, as first world humans, can or should relate to the natural world around us, which provide plenty of room for variation in both our how and our why. While I love a nature trail with rustling tree leaves and moist dirt under my feet, hot sand on a warm beach with the sound of waves and the smell of sunscreen might be more your style. It follows, then, that you may have strong feelings about trash left on the beach or plastics taking over our ocean and threatening ecosystems, while I am more frustrated by hiking trails taken over by ATVs and the loss of habit for forest animals, who in turn begin to forage for food in our trash cans rather than within their natural habitat. There are also many, many different ideas out there to express why the natural world is something we should take responsibility for, and, as is often the case in many areas of purposeful living, our whys are the gateways to defining our own ideas for our hows.
I would be ridiculous for me to attempt to present the entire canon of perspectives on the appropriate relationship between humans and the natural environment, and it would be just as absurd to try to describe the millions of ways that we can care for our environments and curate a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Furthermore, I am soooo not a scholar on this. The concept that I, as an individual, have a responsibility to care for the natural elements around me is pretty new to me, and I don’t consider myself the scientific type.
What I do know is this. When we moved to southern California in the summer of 2016, I found myself in a community that takes pride in the variety of natural environments around them. In San Diego county, if you’re willing to invest the gas money, you can watch the sun rise from the top of a secluded mountain in the forest, walk miles on a flat desert trail in the afternoon, and still make it to the beach in time to watch the sunset. The people who live here, even those who have lived here their entire lives, have a great appreciation for the nature around them, and that appreciation is an infection all its own. Of course, this makes cabin fever that much more irritating, especially when spring fever is also in the air.
In my next post I will explain how I came to my why, and explain how I became convicted that my attitude toward the natural world was self-centered and harmful. I’ll also tell you how I have set my own personal boundaries based on my convictions. No one expects me to save the world, and I don’t expect that either. The presumption that I am responsible for the natural world on that level would be debilitating. God is the Creator and Sustainer of the natural world, but He calls me to honor and care for the gift He’s given us. But as my creator, God also sets limits on my abilities and helps me see the boundaries of my own influence, while also enabling me to recognize that the service I provide within those physical and spiritual boundaries is a valuable service.
I hope you’ll be willing to take this hike with me. Like any long trek, there have been moments of regret and frustration, moments when I attempted more than was within my grasp, times when I wanted to throw in the towel, and quite a few rocks to trip over, but the view from the top is worth it. This process has also shown me that my small action to impact a problem that is infinite and truly unsolvable outside of God’s intervention, can nevertheless be an act of worship.
Photos by Oscar Keys, Albert Laurence, Gemma Evans, and Boris Smokrovic via Unsplash.