08 Mar 2016

My birthday isn’t until June; is it too early to be thinking about presents? Hardly! When I was a boy, I spent the first half of the year dreaming about what I’d receive for my birthday. And the second half dreaming about Christmas. 

And of what did I dream? Action Man. Action Man was not a doll; he was an “action figure” made for adventure. Don’t believe me? Well consider the outfits I eventually collected, thanks to my parents’ largesse. There was the deep-sea diver’s outfit, with a full helmet and real lead diving belt and shoes. And the astronaut’s outfit that matched Neil Armstrong’s in precise detail. 

The parachutist’s outfit came with a very real parachute. I spent a wonderful day rushing up the fire escape stairs at the Sydney Adventist Hospital, launching my Action Man off the top of the building and watching him float gracefully to the ground. Until a killjoy came along and informed me that the San fire escapes were not designed to be a second-grader’s play area. Well then, what precisely is their point? 

But there came a day I concluded I didn’t want Action Man gear from my parents. The reason wasn’t that I’d outgrown my favourite toy. It was that I was particular. Very particular. And rather than cede the choosing to my parents, why not just get cold hard cash? And then buy precisely what I wanted. 

As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve run into a limitation with cash. Take the Australian dollar, for example. When we moved back to Australia, one Aussie dollar was worth almost $US1.10. Today? Well it’s down to 70 cents. In relative terms, my Aussie cash is now worth well over one-third less! Ouch!

So maybe there are other treasures that better hold their value? Precious metals? Bitcoins? Diamonds? But all of these vary widely in value over time. So what should be on my wish list this birthday?

Professor Robert Waldinger, of Harvard University Medical School, states that 50 per cent of millennials want to be famous and more than 80 per cent want to be rich. So should I pine for a little bit of fame and a lot more moola?

Apparently not. In presenting the findings of a 75-year study on human happiness, Professor Waldinger concludes: 

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these [people Harvard studied for 75 years]? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

Healthy, loving relationships are more important to our physical and emotional health than any other factor. Indeed, Harvard University found loving relationships are more important to longevity than such physical markers as mid-life cholesterol levels! Instead of prescribing pills, should we be prescribing love? The answer from the data is yes: “all you need is love!” 

But is this any surprise to the Christian? 

“I am giving you a new commandment,” said Jesus, “Love each other . . . Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34,35). Really? That’s the best sign we have got? Wouldn’t miracles be a more impressive sign? How about brilliant Bible knowledge? Or maybe freakishly accurate prophecies? Apparently not if you read 1 Corinthians 13.

Why love? Maybe because through love we heal more people than through our medicine; through love we teach more people than through our schools; through love we enrich more people than through our money. Maybe because God is love, love is the only currency with value in His kingdom.

So what to wish for this birthday? To be an authentically more loving person. To be a more loving husba7nd and father. To foster a deeper love in my local church family. For God’s love to reign supreme! All that, and a boat . . .

1. I highly recommend watching Professor Waldinger’s TED Talk in full.