A couple of years ago during my junior year of college, I started the process of really diving into how I serve God’s creation. At the time, my reasons weren’t linked to my faith as much as they were sparked by my concern over environmental stewardship. Since then, I’ve learned just how strongly stewardship of creation and my faith are connected.
When I used to think of serving God, my mind immediately went to prayer, vocations, almsgiving, and volunteering — all of which are very good and important to leading a life as a disciple of Christ. Yet, our original mission when God created us was to take care of the world.
Stewardship of the Earth, God’s gift to us, is far more than just organizing our trash and donating old things we no longer want. Taking the time to look at the root of our environmental footprint allows us to refocus on how God would want us to live. As part of my daily devotion, I’ve been meditating on Bible verses that touch on environmental stewardship. These verses help me to live out a more environmentally friendly life, not just because it’s the popular thing to do, but because it encompasses the main tenets of what Christ taught.
Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.”
If you look into the pillars of sustainability, you’ll find three main ones: social, economic, and environmental. To be a good steward, I ask myself two main questions: How can I serve someone else? How can I serve the Earth? Every day, we have the opportunity to do one or both of these. I cannot, on my own, solve world hunger or clean the oceans. However, that does not mean each “small” step I take individually to take care of the Earth doesn’t matter – it does! It could be as simple as:
- bringing my own tupperware when going out to eat
- Asking stores to not send packages with plastic packaging (when ordering something online)
- Buying from stores that are ethical and sustainable (you would be surprised at how many brands use sweatshops and child labor).
When I seek to do the small things with great love for God, like Mother Teresa implored, I’m also loving my fellow humans, those who exist with me now and those who will come later. Whenever I buy something or throw something away, I ask myself who it will affect later on.
1 Timothy 6:7-8: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
I certainly take for granted what I already have. If I were truly thankful for the clothes on my back, the food on my table, and the company I have, I would want for nothing more. When I first started my journey of environmental stewardship, I asked myself: Why do I constantly want more and more? I made myself take the time to sit down and do the following:
- Review bank statements and spending habits.
- Evaluate which purchases were necessary and unnecessary.
- Determine where I bought merchandise from.
Going through this process opened my eyes to some bad habits and helped spark change. For the next month, make it a goal to cut down on your spending in one area of your life. Maybe you don’t buy new clothes this month and get your groceries from a local farmstand. At any point, when you find yourself considering adding even more to what you already own, make yourself wait a couple of days or a week. During that time, reflect on the purchase with the following questions:
- Do I need this?
- Can I rent or borrow this from someone else?
- Can I buy this secondhand?
- If I do buy this thing brand new, is there someone who makes it ethically and sustainably?
John 6:12: “And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.”
Waste not, want not. Have you ever taken the time to see how much trash you throw out? The day before trash goes out, survey your trash. How much is made up of food waste? How much is paper? How much is toiletries and plastic (i.e. shampoo bottles, makeup waste, etc.) The first time I did this, I just walked into my kitchen the day my trash bins were full and sorted through them. The majority of my garbage was made up of foods and paper products (towels, papers etc.) and the rest were not-so-sustainable products like plastic food containers, tags, etc. I quickly created a list of actions I could take to change my trash habits: consuming fewer instant and processed foods to cut down on packaging, switching to recyclable containers when buying packaged products, and finding a way to compost (which would cut out around a third of what I was throwing out anyways). Doing this weekly or monthly is a good way to check in with what you’re wasting and what you’re actually using.
Also, consider composting if you find that you cook with a lot of fresh produce like I do — there are many pickup services (check out CompostNow based in NC!) that will take your compost for you, or if you live in an area where that is not available, consider starting your own! Apply this visual lesson to your whole life: what are you wasting? Seek to either cut down on those areas (if not cut out completely) and find a way to responsibly dispose of that waste — remember, reduce and reuse come before recycling. When I started composting and buying local produce, it reminded me how interconnected our world is — being able to see the farmers you’re supporting by buying their produce or seeing the cyclical nature of decomposition and growth with composting parallels with the parables in Scripture. He “makes all things new” and encourages us to take care of each other’s interests (Rev. 21:5; Philippians 2:4).
In every change I try to incorporate into my life, big or small, it’s always helped me to understand how these changes will affect me spiritually. After all, our original mission to take care of God’s Creation still stands and in fact, it permeates every decision in our lives. Living with love and compassion for yourself, others, and the earth is an amazing step to take in discipleship. Small actions to care for our planet can be a big leap toward honoring God.