What is more important than happiness?

So now I’m living in the ‘happiest’ country in the world. Switzerland usually does well in any international ranking based on wealth, social development, transparency and the environment. However, I was surprised that it ranked first place for happiness in the 2015 World Happiness Report. It’s probably because we eat more chocolate than any other nation. That can’t be a bad thing. Can it? Over the years Switzerland has secured its place at the top of the list for global competitiveness, global innovation, human development, global peace and press freedom. It is often assumed that money, wealth and a healthy gross domestic product are factors in Switzerland’s success. It is easy to find a winner when you measure these kinds of areas. The recent survey on happiness used many economic factors to reach its conclusions. Canada came fifth on the list. But can we really quantify happiness? There is no doubt that a strong and stable economy with a democratic government provides more opportunity for its citizens. But for me these kinds of rankings miss out on an important part of life – spirituality. In the 16th century Switzerland was the center of the Protestant Reformation. It was a time of great spiritual vitality and recovery of Biblical truth. Granted it wasn’t a perfect period of time but there was a great spiritual awakening. Today there seems to be a great spiritual slumber. An increasing number of Swiss nationals are cutting their ties to the state church. Attendance at Sunday services has long since dropped off and now numerous church parishes are closing around the country each year. The number of people self-identifying as agonist or atheist is growing. Switzerland is moving towards becoming a post-Christian nation. While the economy offers plenty there is a spiritual famine in the land. A spiritual famine is one of those things you don’t notice right away. Having wealth and material comforts can compensate for an empty spirit – for a while. Eventually people are forced to look closer at their inner life. The material world is temporal and will fade away but the spiritual world is eternal. Deep within us we hunger for the eternal. Most days I am struck by the contrast I sense in Switzerland. It’s one of the richest countries in terms of economic wealth and yet has become one of the poorest countries in spirit. Switzerland needs a fresh renewal and revival, a new move of God’s spirit. Thinking back on the Reformation that changed this country almost five hundred years ago I remember Habakkuk’s prayer: Lord, I have heard of your fame;     I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day,     in our time make them known; (Habakkuk 3:2) That’s my prayer for Switzerland; Lord, repeat your awesome deeds in our day and age. Send fresh renewal and revival to people who have wandered away. Visit us again with something more important than happiness – the salvation of the Lord. Please join me in that prayer.

Light in the darkness

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go spelunking in the Rocky Mountains. Spelunking is also known as caving, basically crawling and climbing through damp and dark caves. It was a good experience although at time the space was very small and you had to remind yourself not to panic. We were outfitted with equipment to enable us to make our way through the various crevasses and climb over different outcroppings. The most helpful thing was the light on our helmet since the main thing I learned about caves is that they are pitch black. Our group made its way to a large open cave deep under the earth. We turned off all our lights and sat quietly in the all-encompassing darkness. I thought that after a few minutes our eyes would adjust but they didn’t. There was no light at all. You couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. Then, one by one, we each lit a candle and soon there was a warm glow inside that deep cave. It was a highly memorable experience. Scripture reminds us that we live in a dark world. We only need to watch the evening news to be reminded about the numerous ways in which our world has fallen from God’s plan. Some days we might wonder, “How is it possible for us to make a difference?” Paul writes: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15) We should never forget that our calling is to live simply and honestly before God so that we might be light to those in the darkness. Our presence makes a difference and helps other people see that there is an alternative to the darkness that surrounds us. So let your light shine. It might be the only bright spot some people see today.

Asleep on a plane

As someone familiar with air travel, I have grown used to seeing the inside of an airplane. However, there’s more to the plane than just the passenger cabin. I don’t usually think about the cargo hold although I’m always grateful when my luggage arrives on the same flight that I do. I’ve been thinking more about how baggage is loaded in light of a story from Seattle earlier this week.     Just after taking off for Los Angeles an Alaska Airlines flight had to return to the airport. The pilots heard someone banging and yelling from inside the cargo bay. I image it was a little unsettling for them. But it was probably more stressful on the baggage handler who was trapped in the hold. Apparently towards the end of his shift he decided to take a nap and woke up once the plane was taking off.   I’m a little confused as to how that happens. Where exactly did he decide to take this nap and how did he get on the plane? Who naps in a baggage cart that’s about to be loaded? You’d think this kind of thing is rare but it’s happened four times in the United States in the last ten years. Rare enough but still, how does this happen? Here’s the kicker: his co-workers knew he was missing but just thought he had gone home early.   Some jobs are more high stress than others but every job has an impact on other people. Bad things can happen when we get careless and don’t pay attention to what we are doing. Or we don’t pay attention to the people around us. Our actions and behaviors have a ripple effect on others. One man’s decision to take a nap affected 140 people on a plane to Los Angeles.   It’s true in the spiritual realm as well. We need to pay attention to how we live and what we are doing. Our actions, prayers and example have an impact on people around us. John says “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) In other words: watch how you live. Talk is cheap so pay attention to what really matters. Each of us has far more influence on others than we imagine. Are we paying attention to the impact we are making on those around us?

Raising Teenagers

Mark Twain once offered this advice on raising teenagers, “When a child turns 12 he should be kept in a barrel and fed through a hole, until he reaches 16… at which time you should plug the hole.”   As a parent of three teenagers and one who has just passed through those teen years, I find Twain’s comments funny. But I’m sure it’s not a good approach to raising your children. There are loads of internet blogs and sites offering advice for new parents with young children. An unlimited number of books are available to help us raise pre-school kids. But when it comes to help for parenting teens – there is silence. Why? Because it’s hard work and by the time your children reach those important years you have already realized you’re in over your head. The week before Easter, when the media briefly turns to spiritual matters, there were a couple interesting news articles about teens and religion. There are some brave researchers who have attempted to interpret scientific data on dealing with teenagers and the challenges associated with moving into adulthood. Unfortunately, they have not been able to uncover much helpful information. Teenagers have managed to render empirical evidence useless since that’s often what they do best.   However, researchers in the articles I read have found two important things. First, the role of parents matters more than we think. Some people are now suggesting that there ought to be parental leave for parents of teenagers. Researchers looked at the effects of ‘engaged time’ and ‘accessible time’ that parents have for their children, especially mothers. At all stages of life parents who are engaged and available to their children make a difference but the greatest difference comes during adolescence. The more engaged time parents spent with their teenagers, “the less likely those teenagers were to engage in delinquent acts — defined as anything from lying about something important to getting arrested.” Take note, time spent with your teens is important, even when they tell you it isn’t.   The second study I saw looked more at the impact of families that have a strong faith. Here’s what they found: “Spiritually connected teens are, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented.   They’re 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, and 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations… also tend to excel academically.” The challenge, (I speak as the parent of teenagers) is that you often feel like you aren’t making much of a difference. You don’t feel that your influence is very great and you play second fiddle to their peer group. But we shouldn’t let our feelings affect the truth. Our engagement in all areas, including spiritual activity, will help set up our children for success. It’s true; there are no guarantees for problem free parenting. But it just might be simpler than we think. “Teach (these commands) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:19-21