To my knowledge, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’. Imagine that. Throughout much of Africa, the anniversary of one’s birth is not really a Hallmark celebration.
So why then, in America, do we make such a big deal about birthdays? Maybe to make us feel significant, esteemed, loved…
In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper opened my eyes to realize that our Western culture has a distorted view of love which tells us that to be loved is to be made much of. And making much of ourselves seems to be our specialty.
It makes perfect sense then, that we raise the roof on occasions such as birthdays. We don that golden Burger King crown, announcing that the world ought to serve us on OUR special day.
Think about it. When was the last time you attended a child’s birthday party? On that day, life revolves around them. They run the show.
I wonder, are we not perpetuating selfishness and materialism at these birthday hooplas?
We start this training early on by throwing a bash before the child can even talk…Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!
As the child grows, so grows the party. Not to mention, the quantity and quality of presents. Soon enough, parents are spending exorbitant amounts, hosting extravagant parties at expensive venues. Don’t even get me started ranting about those Super Sweet 16 birthdays.
For the record, my favorite birthday was 1988, the year I turned six. Mom made a She-Ra birthday cake and all my friends gathered at the local swimming pool. (Not sure how those two were even related, but Mom did her best to fulfill my every bizarre request…why wouldn’t she, it was MY special day?)
I suppose if we’ve fallen into our culture’s notion that to be loved is to be made much of, than why wouldn’t we want to use a day to improve our children’s self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves?
Happy Birthday to Me
A few days ago it was my birthday. And to be brutally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Its not that I feared turning another year older, in spite of the fact that I’m now 28. The reason I wasn’t eagerly anticipating my birthday was because I had no one around to make much of me. I longed for fellowship with family and friends, yet here I was in a brand new country, alone.
I feared that without cake, candles, or song—not to mention the absence of friends and family—I would feel unloved, worthless, unappreciated. Would I even hear one live voice wish me a happy birthday?
A subtle reminder
On that day, I awoke early to the sound of the children singing. I can’t yet understand Kirundi, but the familiar tune brought the lyrics to mind.”This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In His grace, God reminded me that its not about me. Lord, this is Your day. Its not my day. Help me to decrease so that you might increase. Thank you for giving me life through your Son. May I delight in Your love today.
And much to my surprise, God gave me a birthday sikukuu. (As I mentioned, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’, but it certainly was a sikukuu = festive and eventful day; contraction of two Swahili words: ‘siku’, meaning ‘day’ and ‘kubwa’ meaning ‘big’.)
Here’s how the day transpired:
- In the morning, I sat with Goreth as she hand-washed mounds of dirty clothes. Yes Mom, I watched Goreth wash. Please don’t be too disappointed. Numerous times I offered to help, but she wouldn’t allow it. So I sat beside her. And as we sang hymns together in perfect harmony, God washed over my heart and saturated it with peace.
- Arriving at Amahoro, the remainder of my morning was spent combining fabrics for new handbags. My presence and advice brought reassurance to these women who have longed for design direction. Seeing the delight in their faces was mental encouragement which energized my creative spirit.
- Returning home in the afternoon, I snacked on fried plantains and pineapple juice. Goreth’s children insisted that we dance to African music videos and in doing so, they gave life to my weary body and planted joy deep in my heart. Such laughter. Such good dancing…those kids got rhythm.
If I had it my way…
…I would’ve been in America, celebrating with friends and family. Even here in Burundi, I was tempted to take the day for myself. Enjoy some ME time.
But by allowing God to use me on that day—though I would’ve much preferred to stay in bed, curled up with a book—He showed me that “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but of self-forgetfulness.” (John Piper)