GUEST COMMENTARY: Do your mom a favor and clean up after yourself

(RNS2-MAY04) Nancy Sleeth is author of the new book, "Go Green, Save Green," and program director of the faith-based environmental nonprofit, Blessed Earth. For use with RNS-SLEETH-COLUMN, transmitted May 4, 2009. Religion News Service photo courtesy Nancy Sleeth.

(UNDATED) To one degree or another, we all take our mothers for granted.

Dirty laundry on the floor. Dishes in the sink. If you're a mom, like me, the people around you have often assumed that you will fill in the gaps, pick up the pieces, and clean up their messes.

We do the same for Mother Nature. Leave our garbage on the ground. Pour harmful chemicals down the sink. Make impulse purchases, which end up in landfills. We assume that the earth will endlessly replenish, repair, and clean up our toxic messes.

We forget that every mother has a breaking point. Even Mother Nature.

My husband was recently at a Houston megachurch, sharing why we need to show our respect for the Creator by caring for his creation. This particular service was geared toward ex-prisoners, recovering alcoholics, and reformed prostitutes -- the very people Jesus hung out with. Most people arrived on motorcycles, including the pastor. Because it was a relaxed, Saturday night service, people were encouraged to bring a cup of coffee and a cookie into the sanctuary. In front of the pulpit, however, hung a large sign: "This ain't your mother's church. Clean up your own mess."

It's good advice for all of us: This ain't your mother's earth. Clean up your own messes.

You've heard the depressing news: melting glaciers, rising asthma rates, dying species, depleted energy reserves. It's all mostly the result of rampant consumerism and short-term thinking -- or not thinking at all.

If we continue business as usual for another 100 years, no one -- no matter your political, national, or faith affiliation -- believes the story will have a happy ending. We all drink the same water and breathe the same air. Scarcer resources lead to increased social unrest, hunger, poverty, and death -- outcomes no mother longs for.

But we still have time to change.

When our kids were young, my husband and I took an accounting of our energy consumption and trash production. We found out we were dead average for America, which meant we used six times as many resources as our global neighbors. If we wanted our children to have any chance of a healthy future, we needed to make some big changes.

My husband quit his job as an emergency room physician, and we began focusing on global health. Over the next couple of years, we radically changed our lifestyle. We moved to a house the size of our old garage, cut our electricity usage by 90 percent, and reduced our fossil fuel use by two-thirds.

Some of these changes required more work. So we asked our kids to help. They learned to hang laundry, wash dishes, garden, and chop wood. On Saturdays, we cleaned the house together. On Sundays, we all took a day of rest -- reading books, taking walks, enjoying nature and each other. No e-mail, no computers, no errands. Our kids became jealous guards of our "stop days."

Today, as young adults, our children look back on the silly songs they made up while washing dishes as some of their fondest memories. They definitely know how to clean up their own messes. And, more importantly, they have dedicated their lives to preventing the world from getting messed up in the first place.

Do my children ever take me for granted? Of course, just as I continue to take my mother's unconditional love for granted. But most of the time, our children express respect and appreciation. They like to hang out with my husband and me, and we like to hang out with them. It's a symbiotic relationship because all of us feel enriched rather than exploited.

Humanity needs to begin developing the same kind of relationship with Mother Nature. For thousands of generations, we lived in harmony with the land. We respected the earth that provided for our needs, just as we respected the parents who provided for us.

Pledge to clean up your own messes this Mother's Day. Adjust the thermostat. Pick up trash along the sidewalk. Plant a tree in honor of Mom. Instead of buying your mother a card this holiday, prepare a home cooked meal and clean up the dishes. You'll be showing loving respect to your mother, and to Mother Nature.

(Nancy Sleeth is author of the new book, "Go Green, Save Green," and program director of the faith-based environmental nonprofit, Blessed Earth.)