“Happy new month!” The salutation rings out across Nigeria every thirty or so days, via phone, SMS, email, e-messaging, social media and in person. In churches and offices, amongst friends, neighbours and colleagues, this monthly ritual seems to hold some sort of magical source of hope and renewal. For others, it’s just a fun way to reach out to friends or a great way to break the ice with people they want to connect with. For too many, it’s a vain promise that this month will be the month when they leave misery and desperation behind.
I had never come across the practice until I arrived in Nigeria and, at first, it was amusing. Later on, it became annoying, as my phone was bombarded with weird broadcasts from all kinds of random people, suggesting that I should do one thing or another – simply because another month had passed. Much of it was well-meaning, but just a tad over-zealous in its suggestion of religious or spiritual significance.
Perhaps my favourite interpretation of happy-new-month-mania, is when young women (mostly) use it as a way to inform everyone they know that it is their ‘birth month’ and that they are anticipating all kinds of gifts (yes, really). Some even go out of their way to let you know that cash is perfectly acceptable, if you can’t figure out what to buy for them. The funniest is when security guards, shop assistants, hotel doormen and cab drivers greet you with a smile and a knowing look, as they carefully enunciate, “Hap-py new mo-o-nth, sah!” For a moment, the world seems to stand still, awaiting your anticipated generosity.
Last night, a friend of mine mentioned that she was heading to church for an 11pm service that would last until 3am. I was baffled – it was a Friday night – but I’ve learned not to question people’s church habits too closely, as it can cause offence. It wasn’t until this morning, when I drove past a neighbourhood church and saw the remnants of a large event in the parking lot, that I realised what I was missing. Yesterday wasn’t just any old Friday, it was the last day of March, the eve of the new month of April! In many churches, the occasion takes on the significance of New Year’s Eve with all-night vigils, special services and promises of even more prosperity than the previous month and certain victory in your battle with invisible ‘forces of evil’.
I can see how convenient it might be to pause each month and take stock of where you are in your spiritual journey, just as you might in other aspects of your life – business, career, social or financial. However, it is a little disturbing when I see trusting souls being manipulated into increasingly more ‘seed-sowing’, in an endless quest for an end to their poverty – all within the artificial construct of a ‘new month’, which is bestowed with a spiritual import beyond anything contained in scriptures.
It would be so much better if these same churches organised their teaching around honesty, hard work, creativity, service, charity, empathy and community spirit. The lives of millions would be greatly improved, along with the societies they live in, if graft and trickery were replaced gradually and genuine care for the least amongst us became more important than the amassing of great wealth for a few individuals.
I’m happy for every month that I’m alive and healthy in mind, body and spirit. It’s another thirty days to learn from my mistakes, grow, create value, contribute to others, seize opportunities and form new partnerships. Getting the most out of each day is what really counts. Renewal should be a daily exercise. Improvement should be constant.
Here’s my wish for you: may this month be like the next month and the one after that – full of struggle and triumph, joy and pain, sunshine and rain. There’s no magic formula, silver bullet or special prayer – just a steady upward climb, with a few bumps along the way, guided by your faith in things unseen and the knowledge that anything is possible.
“I can hardly wait for tomorrow, it means a new life for me each and every day.” ― Stanley Kunitz