Jan 16 2013


bighorn-3582Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.  I think I’ve known that for a long time but have only recently come to realize how much that is true in my own life.  Last month Rob told me about a book he was reading and said he thought I’d find it helpful.  It is by Kristin Neff and is called Self-Compassion.  I purchased the book and read it.  Rob was right; I found it to be tremendously helpful.

Neff writes extensively about how a lot of people beat up on themselves when they mess up.  They do not extend to themselves the same patience, gentleness, encouragement and support they would to their friends who made the same mistake or mess.  The end result of such self-criticism is a lot of frustration, anger, discontentment and depression.  Many people actually make their lives miserable by failing to love themselves in appropriate ways.  I have been guilty of doing this for years.  Neff offers lots of wonderful insight into this problem and also ways we can avoid it.  I commend the book to you.

DT3186Some folks may have trouble with the concept of self-compassion.  It might seem strange, and perhaps even selfish, to love oneself.   Others may feel that loving oneself would lead to inordinate pride or narcissism.  In reality, loving oneself is a very healthy and spiritual thing to do.  In fact, when Jesus spoke of “the greatest commandment” he mentioned it.  A lot of people seem to recall only that he said we should love God with all our “heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27) and that we should love our neighbor.  He qualified the second part of this commandment by adding “love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are supposed to love ourselves.  In fact, I’m not sure how well we can love our neighbor, or even God, if we do not love ourselves.  Loving oneself is very important.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m writing about this on a site dedicated to “reflections on God and nature.”  There are two reasons I do so.  First, as already indicated, loving oneself is a vital part of Christian spirituality.  I wanted to mention this issue and Neff’s book because I feel that there are likely a lot of other people who are sick and tired of their self-critic beating up on them.  I’d like to encourage such people to extend the same grace and mercy they give to others to themselves.

WC3850Second, in Neff’s book she mentions taking walks in the woods or out in nature as one example of practicing self-compassion.  When you discover that you are beating up on yourself it is important to find ways to give yourself a break.  Nature can help.  Many studies have revealed that exposure to nature has both physical and emotional benefits.  Richard Louv talks a good bit about this in his book The Nature Principle.  As Rob and I have noted numerous times, exposure to nature also has many spiritual benefits.  It does a soul good to be out in God’s Creation.  It can also be a way to show yourself some love.

I hope you’ll give some thought to how you might practice self-compassion.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that God already loves you completely and unconditionally.  Perhaps it is time we followed God’s lead and started loving ourselves as well.


(I took the three pictures above on my trip to South Dakota this past fall.)

Mar 11 2012

The Benefits of Nature

A few weeks ago Rob sent me a copy of Richard Louv’s book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.  I have really enjoyed reading it and am learning a lot.  Louv writes brilliantly on how “Every day, our relationship with nature, or lack of it, influences our lives.” Noting studies from several different fields, he discusses how nature plays an important role in our physical, mental and spiritual health.  He shows how exposure to nature affects children’s ability to learn.  He also discusses how exposure to nature encourages creativity, reduces stress and loneliness, and even helps make aging easier.

It would take a lot of time to list all the benefits nature offers that are mentioned in this book.   Even I was surprised by some of the benefits identified.  Seeing these made me wonder how with all these benefits available people today are spending less and less time in nature.   Luov discusses some of the reasons for this.  One of the primary ones is the cultural shift to a technological society.  Our lives revolve more around gadgets today than nature.  He says that the “electronic immersion” drains “our ability to pay attention, to think clearly, to be productive and creative” and concludes “the more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

Another reason people are spending less time surrounded by nature is fear.  Having become unfamiliar with the natural world we are afraid of the unknown.  Louv admits that “spending time in nature, particularly in wilderness, can pose physical dangers, but rejecting nature because of those risks and discomforts is a greater gamble.” When you consider what a person misses by not spending time in nature, I cannot help but agree with Louv’s conclusion.

There are more benefits to exposing ourselves to nature than any one person can imagine.  Some may find all these benefits in nature surprising, but not me.  I believe that they are grace gifts.  We read repeatedly in Genesis 1 that after each day of Creation God declared that what He had made was “good.” It truly was and is.  God’s Creation is, in fact, both good and good for you.  It’s now up to us to take advantage of the gifts to be found there.  How foolish it would be not to!


(The top image shows my friend, Steve Ausmus, inside Double Arch at Arches National Park.  The middle picture shows me surveying the scenery high in Haleakala National Park.  The bottom picture shows Rob Sheppard photographing near his home in California.)