We all live in the same world but we often see it very differently. The whole world experienced the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 but that does not mean our outlook on 2021 or the way we talk about it is the same and sometimes that is for cultural reasons.
Apart from retrospectives or lists of the year, posts on social media from my Australian friends tended towards one of two categories: gratitude or self-care. For example, you might see a post that said, “2020 has been hard in lots of ways but here are the things I’m thankful for…” Eternity News ran a whole article asking Christian leaders what they were thankful for. (I contributed to it!) This is not out of step with culture generally – #thankful has been a top hashtag of 2020 – though when Christians do it their thankfulness tends to be more personal, that is, being thankful to someone (God) rather than generally thankful. There’s a recognition in society that gratitude is good for you and a discipline to be encouraged year round. In that sense you could see the gratitude posts as sub-set of the self-care posts. They tend to go something more like this: “2020 has been hard; it’s OK to say that. We don’t know what 2021 will bring. It’s OK not to set ambitious resolutions. Be gentle with yourself. Take a walk, watch some Netflix, hug your loved ones close.”
Meanwhile posts from my Tanzanian friends are writing things like, “You will not suffer, you will not struggle and you will not toil In Jesus Mighty Name,” or “2021 will be a year of unlimited possibilities. An abundance of real love, health, wealth and success.” Whether these are statements, guarantees or prayers, these messages of victory are consistent with Tanzanian social media use which tends to reflect the belief in the power of words and the importance of attitude for improving one’s life. Implicit in such messages is an acknowledgement that things have not been rosy up to this point. Consider this message:
Then the Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”- Gen 18:10 This year, May the Lord cause you to take hold of the things you desired in 2020 and could not get them. Happy New Year.
The goal of a message like this is perseverance: keep going! God is faithful and a difficult year in the past is not a reason to give up but part of being patient and trusting God to bring you through.
Actually, I think this has a very similar goal to the self-care posts in Australia. Self-care exists to allow you to keep going, so you don’t burn out or become discouraged. It’s aimed at sustainability and long-term wellbeing. The Tanzanian posts obviously approach that very differently but at the core is a desire that you do not lose hope or give up. That’s not where the similarities end either. Both my Tanzanian and my Australian friends emphasise dwelling on the positive: this is the function of both the thankfulness posts and the victorious declaration posts.
The differences in approach align with worldview. The therapeutic approach of my Australian friends reflects the growing prominence of the pleasure-pain paradigm. One of the strengths of this worldview is its emphasis on wellbeing; it’s concerned with the dignity of human beings and seeing them flourish. This is a deeply Christian concern (and one that is shared by Tanzanians though it is expressed differently.) Thus in a year where pain has been unavoidable for many, and that has been deeply shocking and uncomfortable, New Year messages focus on where pleasure can be found and how to persevere when it is in short supply.
For Tanzanians on the other hand, life’s hardships are par for the course. The danger as they see it is not being unmoored by unexpected suffering but being so expectant of suffering that they are weighed down by passivity. Their New Year messages seek to combat this tendency with a declaration of a different reality. They may believe this will bring about that new reality but, perhaps more to the point, it changes them too. It moves them from being passive to giving them a reason to keep going and keep holding on. These kinds of posts do not let 2020 have the last word; they refuse to let the past hold them captive. There is a greater power who does not always work on our timetable but who can be trusted to come through.
So, Happy New Year, friends! Let us look to Jesus, the one who goes before us, cares for us and changes us, and as we endure, remember there is joy and glory ahead.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.