“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17).

There seems to be an epidemic of carelessness these days about most everything, whether speech or behavior or assistance, from people who should know and do better. For example, a national news channel had a story about the Dalai Lama. The caption? “Diving intervention.” It was supposed to say “divine intervention,” but nobody noticed. Probably too busy checking Facebook.

Here’s another. I recently switched plans with my cable company. Fifteen minutes after I got off the phone, my Internet was gone, and one of my email addresses had been “disassociated” from my account. The problem? A “coding error” by “customer service,” reminding me of similar headaches with a bank account back in the day, when someone who either didn’t know what he was doing or didn’t care also entered the wrong code. It took a great deal of effort to fix the banking problem. Fortunately, my cable company’s tech people were on the ball and got me back up and running almost as soon as the problem was discovered.

Still more: ordination exams in my denomination rife with grammatical, spelling, and usage errors; documents sent by an insurance company to a national rather than local office, causing delays in the completion of projects and in payment to contractors; business people concerned with trivia and distracted by personal matters while neglecting weighty matters and making big mistakes; and of course, the usual inattentive and reckless driving seen everywhere on local streets and highways.

Isn’t Lent a time for us to say “no” to such carelessness? Think about that word. When we are careless, you and I say “I could care less” how our sloppy, distracted, unfocused work or our poor behavior affect others or reflect on you and me or the organization we represent with the public. Why not adopt as a Lenten discipline caring more, whether about the tone of our voices, the thoughtfulness of our speech, the detail of our work or the attention paid to the needs of our neighbors? 

Who knows? Someone may be so touched and helped by our work and example that he or she regards our carefulness as diving divine intervention.

© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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Note: This post is adapted from my Ash Wednesday meditation at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS.

What a difference a day makes. One day you’re single, the next you’re on your honeymoon or on the other hand, a spouse dies, and you’re bereft of love. One evening you’re healthy and laughing with friends, the next you’re lying in a coma in ICU, fighting for your life. One day you’re eating tasty, rich pancakes with syrup on Shrove Tuesday, munching on Moon Pies from Mardi Gras, the next you’ve taken up the disciplines of Lent, receiving the sign of the cross with a smudge of ashes. As one of the ancient sages said: “the king of today will die tomorrow” (Sirach 10:10).

“Fat” is the metaphor the Bible often uses to refer to the prosperity of that king and his peasants alike. Eating the fat of the land is enjoying its good things. Peasants in the story of Deborah grew fat from the plunder of battle, reveling in bounty they would not otherwise have known (Judges 5:7). When the people were grieved at hearing the word of God, Nehemiah invited them instead to eat the fat and drink sweet wine, to celebrate, even as they shared good things with the poor (Nehemiah 8:6). Being and eating fat means you’ve got enough; you can turn your attention to other pursuits than daily survival. Maybe you can make art or reflect on a philosophical question or play music because you’re not preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. Fat is blessing, abundance, goodness. It’s richness, protection, warmth, luxury. We might say it’s the marbling of life that gives it its flavor and juiciness, its appeal to the senses.

But “fat” also stands for the laziness and arrogance that so easily grips us. Those whose hearts are fat forget God; they begin to believe that their own efforts brought them their good things (cf. Deuteronomy 31:20). The arrogant, said the psalmist, have fat and gross hearts, and they smear the righteous with lies. The poet, on the other hand, delights in God’s law, a practice I suppose we could call having a lean heart, a life of discipline (Psalm 119:69-70). Fat and sleek, for Jeremiah, equals “sinful” (Jeremiah 5:27-28).

Along with these biblical images, I tend to think of fat as waste. We love our George Foreman grill because it’s designed to help us eat healthier, with the fat from chicken or a burger running off into a tray. The food is still tasty without all that extra fat; it becomes waste, poured into the grease can we keep in the freezer till it’s full and time to throw out and start another one. Fat of the wrong kind is unhealthy and harmful.

This Lent, I’m thinking of how much of my life is waste. Wasted time and effort for unworthy projects. Foolish choices that cost me money and caused me stress. Wasted resources, undisciplined purchases.

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