By Dr. Jun Ynares, M.D.
“It’s the turn of the Americans to feel the challenge of the unfamiliar.”
That was the text message I got from a long-time friend now living in the United States. I had casually asked him via text message regarding how the people of his adopted country were feeling after the swearing in of their new president, billionaire Donald J. Trump.
My friend said their problem is not so much that President Trump is very frank and candid in his political remarks while displaying a demeanor unseen among past US presidents. Their problem, he said, is that the new chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation appears to be bringing them to unfamiliar waters too soon.
Already, President Trump appears to be poised to reverse many of the things his predecessors had put in place to create a familiar and relatively stable global and local environment. Just recently, President Trump issued orders for the US to withdraw from its trade pact with Asia-Pacific nations. Earlier, he had taken bold moves to repeal a major and controversial health legislation.
During the same period, he had ordered the “defunding” of programs for women largely seen to be pro-choice.
He is shaking up his country and the ripples are being felt around the globe. Change is taking place and is happening fast. In a little more time, the once-familiar order of things could be a thing of the past.
We understand what many Americans may be going through now. We’ve been there before. When President Duterte was sworn into office, we knew he would change the landscape and the face of Philippine politics. He would not run the country the way most of his predecessors had. He would defy conventions. He would be a stark contrast.
There are three forms of collective behavior seen when change like this happens.
One is anger. The other one is a wait-and-see approach. The third is watch-and-adapt.
The big march organized by women’s groups and held in many parts of the US appears to be an expression of the first. This sector opted to confront head-on the source of their shared anxiety.
In our country, our view is most of us have understood the unfamiliar and have adapted to it.
The anger expressed by others when faced with major changes both in politics and life is understandable. Experts in the field of human behavior believe that it is natural for us to react adversely to the unfamiliar. We either fight it or flee from it.
The Harvard Business Review explains that one reason is our fear over our loss of control. “Our sense of self-determination is the first to go when faced with a potential change coming from someone else,” the Review says.
Faced with the growing unfamiliarity of our emotional and physical surroundings, we clutch at straws and grope in the dark to look for things that would remind us of the more familiar past – sometimes, to no avail.
Today, January 29, is the last day of the “familiar” celebration at the National Bible Week.
President Duterte brought us to another unfamiliar territory by issuing a presidential proclamation designating the entire month of January of every year as “National Bible Month.” So, thanks to the President, the celebration is no longer just a week long – it is now a whole month-long affair.
This is laudable and we thank the President for this move.
After all, the Bible is our anchor during these times of extreme uncertainties. The world is fast changing and the Bible reminds us all of the constancy of the presence and the love of God.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Hebrews 13 reminds us. This is a great consolation. There is Someone who will always be familiar and who will not change despite the passage of time.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you,” the Psalmist wrote. This is comforting. According to Harvard Business Review, faced with uncertainty caused by drastic change, people feel like “they are walking blindfolded towards a cliff.” During such moments, it is good to be reminded that there is an Unchanging God in whom we can put our trust.
Again, the Psalmist reminds us: “God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in trouble.”
Ever-present. The Unchanging God is always there. This is the same promise of Christ who said “I shall always be with you.”
The Psalmist hit it right on the mark. When overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, we need two things. First, a refuge. Second, a source of renewed strength.
It is significant that the Philippines marks National Bible Week on the first month of each year. I believe other countries celebrate it in the month of November.
It is significant because the beginning of each year is also the time of much uncertainty and anxiety.
National Bible Week reminds us that we have been given the necessary tool and weapon to deal with fear.
In this ever-changing world, we can hold on to the never-changing Word of God.
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