It was early morning, around 6am, on a cold, winter day. I was up watching the sun rise over our farm, savoring my coffee, my toes snuggled into cozy slippers, feeling peaceful and enjoying the view when I saw him. A fox appeared by the large evergreen trees to the right of our property. At first glance, he was beautiful, a bright orange color, with pointy ears, and sharp eyes. But, as he emerged from the tree line, I noticed there was something terribly wrong with his back legs. They were shriveled and didn’t look to be functioning at all. He was dragging them behind him with his two working front legs.
It broke my heart. I went out to see if there was anything I could do to help him, but I frightened him and he scurried away, quite fast for a fox with only two working legs.
I couldn’t tell if it was a birth defect or some terrible accident that had left him like that. Maybe he had been hit by a car? It was hard to know for sure, but I was certain he wouldn’t make it far. I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor fox. I said a prayer for him, hoping he’d somehow be able to make it through the winter, but in my heart, I believed it was futile. How would he be able to hunt and eat? Another animal, maybe a coyote, could get to him before he would be able to outrun it. Or, a hunter or another car would finish him off.
His chances of survival were slim.
I didn’t see him the next day, or the next, or the next. I just hoped that he had a peaceful end, that he didn’t suffer.
Nature is both beautiful and terrible, and it often brings tears to me eyes. I feel closest to God when I’m outside in the beauty of this world He created, but I’m also reminded of the fragility of it all, the pain and the groaning that is the circle of life. I’m both amazed and horrified at the delicate balance of the echo systems we live, the survival of the fittest, the cruelty and complexity of this amazing planet. It wasn’t how God intended it, but because we live in this fallen world, death is now a part of life.
Still, I grieved for that little fox, who wasn’t strong enough for its harsh environment.
A few months passed and it was spring. The snow started to melt, the grass became green again, and little leaf buds started to appear on all the trees. Days became brighter, longer and the world began to wake, once again.
And, once again, it was early morning and I was sipping my coffee on the porch, and who appeared out of the evergreens but the crippled fox. He looked a little thin, and he was still dragging his legs behind him, but, nonetheless, he was alive. He had survived the dark, cold winter.
He looked stronger, leaner, sharper, like he had been through a thing or two.
Over the next several weeks and months, just when I thought I’d seen the last of him, he’d show up again. Unfortunately, his legs never healed. He was always dragging them behind him, like the heavy burden they were, but he had figured out a way to survive, despite his disability, despite the odds that were so obviously stacked against him.
If there was ever an example of perseverance, this fox was it. His life wasn’t easy, that was quite clear. I’m sure it was a struggle to find food most days. I’m sure he was in pain sometimes. I’m sure there were days it would have been easier for him to just lie down and let nature take it’s course. Nevertheless, he pressed on, surviving, maybe even thriving in his own right. He seemed content, even happy, with his lot in life.
I could learn a lot from this fox. This fox who survived.
I want life to be easy. Doesn’t everyone? Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it’s wonderful. Other times, it’s a struggle. It’s hard. Sometimes, even breathing can hurt.
Really though, where did this expectation, this idea that life is supposed to be easy, come from? It’s certainly not taught in my own faith. Hey, Job. Hey, Moses. Hey, Paul.
John 16:33. Jesus says we will have trouble in this world. We are to take heart because He’s overcome it, but we will have trouble. Expect it. It’s coming.
So, why am I surprised when it does? When I was 24 years old my anxiety, which I thought I’d put behind me, came back with a vengeance. I was wholly unprepared for it. I wasn’t ready for the struggle that would plague me for the next several years of my life. I didn’t understand it. Why was this happening to me?
Because…in this world we will have trouble.
One thing, a message I see and hear over and over again from social media, from my friends, from TV shows, is this idea that we all deserve to be happy. It drives me crazy. Only today’s society (and maybe only American society) has popularized this idea. Where do we get off thinking we deserve to be happy? It’s fine to want to be happy. We all want that and, yes, there are beautiful, magnificent blessings in this life. I’m not trying to depress you. Maybe the tone of this post is heading that way and it’s not my intention, but I want to be clear that we don’t necessarily “deserve” happiness. That’s kind of an arrogant position to take. It’s also kind of a shallow pursuit.
Look, no one wants to struggle through life. No one wants to be depressed or feel like crap. No one wants to experience a death of a loved one, a loss of a job, or a cancer diagnosis. I certainly don’t and I never want to go back to those dark years in my struggle with intense anxiety.
My point is, sometimes I’ve forgotten that trouble is expected, that life isn’t supposed to always feel like a magical ride. Life is complicated and messy and hard but I think there’s beauty in that. I think we can always look for the good, feel hopeful, and strive to be better. I think we can hope for happiness, but I think we can also persevere when things aren’t happy. Like the handicapped fox, we may have to drag ourselves through some stuff.
He had a tough winter, that fox. We will experience difficult seasons too and we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised when those seasons come. Hopefully, we will come out of those experiences with a deeper appreciation for the little things, the good things God gives us. Hopefully we will have greater compassion and empathy for others. Hopefully we will be better people for experiencing those long, dark seasons.
I haven’t seen the fox in a while, but I have faith he’s out there somewhere. He’s tough. He’s a survivor. He knows that life won’t always be easy, but he keeps going. I like to think he’s even happy, that maybe he has an appreciation for things that other foxes don’t even notice.
That’s the thing about pain, the thing about struggle. It’s brutal, but when you’ve pushed through the hardship, happiness and joy taste sweeter.