Spring has begun, and in Kansas the weather has turned pleasant. Sparrows, starlings, and robins visit the feeders in our backyard. The crab apple tree in front now displays a few buds, and the grass is slowly changing from brown to green. My daughter Joy, now three, asks to spend time outdoors, a welcome change from her developed preference for tablet computers and television programming.
Joy is an explorer, and very creative. Small pebbles become seeds, transplanted from our rock garden to small pots. She tells them to grow. Berries on a nearby bush are plucked and strewn, food for birds, and common weeds become beautiful flowers. Yesterday, Joy orchestrated a wedding. She assembles larger rocks on our sidewalks to serve as a bridge for an ant community, who are called to move from one colony to another land. Her outlook is constantly changing; her world is expanding.
My outlook on the world has changed as well. It is no longer sufficient to name winged creatures as birds. That description is too thin. It is better to tell Joy we are looking at Canada Geese or Snow Geese, a Blue Winged Teal or a Mallard, a Mississippi Kite or a Red-shouldered Hawk. As we observe the trees, I can point out a Corneliancherry Dogwood or an Autumn Splendor Maple. I call flowers by their proper names: blue sage and Leavenworth eryngo and Venus’ looking glass. Suddenly, the world is textured, not flat.
As my child has grown, creation awareness has become a practice. This practice furthers my relationship with God, and encourages my daughter to grow spiritually. It hasn’t always been easy for me, however, as I’ve had to learn new things. Creation awareness is a practice you can adopt, as well, as you teach your children about faith.
If you can’t tell a tulip from a daisy, don’t worry. Begin where you are, and move on from there. I’m still an amateur naturalist. With children, ask them to help you learn more about the varieties of the creation. Invite them to participate in your exploring, and allow them to teach you new lessons. Then, let that mutuality inform the parent/child relationship in every sphere. Strive to learn together.
As you grow, you will find God’s good world has been filled with treasures beyond your wildest imaginings. The psalmist tells us that “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19), but when you begin to notice, further, the finery of detail in every organism and the splendor of every season, wonder takes hold. Even winter has its charms. In Matthew 6:28, when Jesus invites his hearers to “consider the lilies of the field,” we will see what a worthwhile exercise that may indeed be.
Shoulder to shoulder, observing nature with your children, is an invaluable spiritual exercise. It is one that can easily be practiced with children. Questions should guide you forward, together, as you ponder all that God has made. Make this a habit, part of the dynamic in every visit to the park, every walk along a trail, every neighborhood adventure. Seek the divine in every nook and cranny, ponder every mystery. And pray alongside your children, that as they grow, they would become good stewards of creation, grow in their love for God, and return glory to him as they receive his good gift of life.
Ben Simpson is a writer and theologian living in De Soto, Kansas. His wife, Molly, is a United Methodist elder, and together they have two children, Joy and David. Follow him on Twitter: @bsimpson.