Every few months (no exaggeration), I get a strong urge to pack up my little family, sell everything we own, and move somewhere where we can live off our own land. I want to escape the busyness and schedules of life. But more importantly, I want us to reconnect with nature. We made an offer to buy a farm, looked into buying a vineyard in Tuscany, and literally left everything behind for a few years to live out a sort of Walden pond dream in New Hampshire.
So when I consider the question, “What story do I tell my children about the earth?” hopefully they have gleaned something close to this: We are on this planet not only to learn and to grow, but to create an eternal destiny in connection with this earth.
We find answers about who we are in nature. We become enlightened and inspired by all living things. My kids easily feel a sense of belonging in the natural world. When we are deeply immersed in the physical world, we can find our deepest communion with God. Without the distractions of the world, we allow ourselves to slow down to the pace of the buzzing bees and the crawl of a caterpillar. With “spirit and element inseparably connected,” we experience a “fullness of joy” not felt elsewhere (D&C 93:33-34).
We are not only stewards of this magnificent planet, we are inextricably linked biologically and spiritually. Every creation is living out its purpose, and we have endless lessons to learn from all living things. Eckhart Tolle once said, “I have lived with several Zen Masters; all of them cats.”
We are slowly losing our connection to the natural world and it shows. Most children are growing up in a world where they are so far removed from nature that it might as well be a landscape painting in the background. My husband and I are two of a small but growing number of parents of middle school-aged children that have refused to give in to a smart phone (thanks @collinkartchner!).
Our kids are constantly enmeshed in virtual worlds. We spend so little time in nature that it’s no wonder depression and anxiety have become an epidemic. There is, in fact, a nation-wide “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The antidote is simply experiencing the awe of the natural world around us.
The stories we tell are vitally important to our sense of who we are. So what story do we tell our children about the earth? The one I often heard growing up in the church cast earth as a sort of proving ground where we also “get a body” in the resurrection. The goal was to return and live with God.
But return to where? This story gave me a weird sense that this world is really all about us, and that ultimately we’re just passing through. All creation seemed merely a means to an end. Somehow, that was not a very powerful story to me.
What story will I tell my children about Earth? Our scriptures tell us Earth is our eternal home. I will tell them the story of how we, with our heavenly parents, witnessed our home take shape over billions of years as a fantastic variety of life sprung forth in intricate, connected systems. It will be a story largely communicated by our example as parents—in seemingly mundane but important lifestyle practices like limiting consumption and waste.
The story I tell my children will be an embodied story about exploring and realizing our deep connection with this earth. It will be a story about deepening our relationship with our heavenly parents, to experience their love more fully and to know more deeply who we are.
It will be a story of eternal growth across deep time. And this earth will be the setting for this eternal story.