I rustled around the kitchen this week, measuring flour and cornmeal and milk and cracking eggs into a mixing bowl to make corn muffins. Just as I was about to measure the baking powder, the phone rang. As I chatted away, I carefully counted out six teaspoons of the chalky rising agent, having doubled the recipe.

Only, when I removed my muffins from the oven a short time later, I was dismayed to see two dozen hard, flat disks lining my tins. What had happened? Had I miscounted my teaspoons? I didn’t think so. Nevertheless, something was clearly wrong.

When my husband, Dana, came home for dinner, I served my muffin mishap along with steaming bowls of chowder concocted from vegetables scavenged from my fridge and garden. The soup was more successful than my muffins, which were barely appetizing – even after being smothered with gobs of butter and jam.

After dinner, I put away the leftovers while Dana washed the dishes.

“Is this what you used for baking powder?” He picked up a small, yellow canister from the counter.

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

Then I read the label and cringed: Corn Starch.

No wonder my muffins were as dense as doorstops. I’d been so distracted, I’d grabbed the wrong container! Yet, how often in our lives, do we too mix the wrong ingredients, wondering why our efforts don’t produce better results? Thankfully, Scripture provides the ingredients for a good life. My top ten are found in the book of Philippians:

  • Love one another and work together (2:2).
  • Don’t be selfish (2:3).
  • Work hard (2:12).
  • Do everything without complaining and arguing (2:14).
  • Live clean, innocent lives (2:15).
  • Whatever happens, rejoice in the Lord (3:1).
  • Watch out for people who do evil (3:2).
  • Forget what is behind, focus on what is ahead (3:13).
  • Stay true to the Lord (4:1).
  • Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable (4:8).

The last ingredient is one of my favorites. What we fix our thoughts on matters, especially in a time when the average adult spends an astonishing six hours per day on media, according to a report this week on NPR. Regrettably, much of what is broadcast on television, radio and social media is about as appetizing as my muffins.

When we look at the social ills plaguing our families, schools and nation, something is clearly wrong. Violence, anger, racism, intolerance, addiction, anxiety, suspicion and greed are roiling our communities. We may be dismayed by what we see, but until we slow down, pay attention and carefully measure the ingredients we’re mixing into our lives, we’re baking a recipe for disaster.

There’s a lot of good going on in our communities too – an opportunity for all of us to turn off our TVs, put down our smartphones, click off our computers and love our neighbors as we work together for the common good.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series releases this fall with The Christmas Cradle.