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Cunning but not strong: How a neighbourhood fox helped me cope with war anxiety

These are worrying times, aren’t they? Since Putin started rattling his nuclear sabre, I’ve been struggling with war anxiety. I’ve had some difficult nights, tossing and sweating and waking up with my heart racing.  I have flipped between feeling unable to eat, and then chomping down a ton of comfort carbs.  I have struggled to concentrate on everyday jobs, wasting hours doom-scrolling the horrible news instead.  And there’s this knot of fear niggling away at the centre of my chest.

Google searches for the phrase ‘war anxiety’ have increased by 900% recently, so I guess I’m not alone.  Covid 19 seriously undermined our collective sense of security.  And now, just when we thought life might be getting back to some sort of normal, we get a war in Europe and a scary dictator with nukes.  Interesting times, you might say. But how to live in them?

Fear is a weapon, and a very effective one.  I reckon Putin knows that.  But how can I manage my fear?  Mindfulness practices have their place.  Getting outdoors, exercising, and resisting the urge to keep checking the news all help.  But sometimes none of this is enough.  Sometimes I have a horrible sense of encroaching evil.

Now evil isn’t something I’m comfortable thinking about.  I prefer to think that there’s good in everyone, that we should all just be kind, and other similarly pleasant ideas.  But at the moment, the prayer, ‘Deliver us from evil’ has never felt so necessary.  So I am praying, but sometimes I have wondered whether anyone is listening.

Last weekend, though, something helped.  I went along to a prayer hour at my local church.  I did my best to pray.  I prayed about evil and for an end to the war. But I was still shaky and tight-chested with that hollow feeling in my gut.  ‘Can you hear me, God?”, I was wondering.  ‘Do you actually care?’

I had a little book of prayers and meditations with me.  I began to flick through it, looking for something, anything that might help.  And I came across a little one-page life of the nineteen century French priest, Saint John Vianney.  I knew this Saint John was a holy man, famous for his care of troubled souls.  But I had never realised that he struggled with fear and evil.

Saint John Vianney, I read, was plagued for thirty-five years by terrifying visitations from the devil.  He was kept awake at night by taunting voices, evil singing and disembodied shouting.  Demonic forces dragged him physically from his bed, and one night his bed even caught on fire.  My few weeks of war anxiety suddenly seemed a bit unimpressive!

So how did the saint cope?  Was he afraid? Absolutely. He was terrified. But he kept praying, and he refused to stop caring for the many people who came to him for help.  He realised that these nightly horrors were the devil’s last ditch attempts to scare him into giving up his work.  He gave his tormentor a nickname, ‘Grappin’.  He started to laugh and joke about it.  He came to see that, while the devil’s tricks appeared alarming, they could do him no real harm.

‘The demon is very cunning’, said Saint John Vianney.  ‘But he is not strong.  Making a Sign of the Cross soon puts him to flight.  A little confidence in God and a willing to face down the devil was all that was needed, the saint suggested[1].

Cunning but not strong.  I got up to leave the church, holding onto that thought.  Evil is cunning, but it is not strong.  It was twilight as I rounded the corner into the quiet car park.  And right there, in the middle of the tarmac, sat a fox.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  An urban fox.  My childhood picture book image of cunning. 

I walked up to the fox.  He was watching me intently.  As I came close I said, quite kindly, ‘Hello Fox.’  And of course, as foxes do, he got up, turned tail, and ran away into the bushes at the edge of the car park.  He was cunning, perhaps, but not strong.  He was afraid of me. Just like Saint John Vianney’s demons.  Just like evil confronted by prayer.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I quite like foxes.  They’re just wild animals.  I don’t think they’re evil, or anything like that.  But I had walked out of church with the word ‘cunning ’in my head, and here in front of me was a storybook embodiment of cunning that simply ran away when I approached it.  It seemed like more than a coincidence.

I went home that evening quite certain that God hears my prayers.  The fox was exactly the encouragement I needed in that moment.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still struggling with the ups and downs of war anxiety.  Life is filled with uncertainty, and I am a talented worrier.  But now, whenever my fears feel overwhelming, I remember that fox and the way it ran away.  It reminds me not to be too easily alarmed.  Evil will never have the last word.

Let’s keep encouraging one another in these troubling times.

[1] You can read more here about Saint John Vianney and the Devil

Karen Lawrence is an author and mother of seven living in Billericay, Essex, United Kingdom.  Karen has published two books and is currently working on three novels.

Letting the Light In: How A Baby With Down Syndrome Changed My Life is Karen’s personal account of having a baby with Down Syndrome. It is available from Amazon at

Karen’s first book, Finding Your Calm Space: Thirty-One Ways to find Calm in a Crazy World is available from Amazon at

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