Surfing in the Suffering



Water is extremely heavy.

I learned this the hard way.

One summer, my parents and I were vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

(This is, apparently, the way all humourous stories from my childhood begin.)

I distinctly remember that is was a perfect “beach day”: blue skies, ample sunshine, warm sand and waves that were just right for boogie boarding (also known as “bodyboarding”).

My parents and I had spent some time splashing around in the ocean and we were all ready for  break (i.e. time to reapply sunscreen). We took a rest, and then I decided to get back in the water.

Confident in my boogying abilities, I ventured into the sea. I loved the feeling of catching a wave and riding it to shore, yelling all the while.

Basically, I thought I was cool.

In my mind, I had a handle on this bodysurfing thing. I thought I was a pretty good selector of waves. I thought I had some technique.

So, when I spied a wave that looked like the perfect one, I went for it. The wave was rolling in fast, and I came in from the side, trying to maneuver myself in front of it. I was aiming  for the crest of the wave, or even the face of the wave. Instead, I caught the trough.

The bottom of the wave.

According to an article published on,

The trough is often constant for waves traveling in the open ocean. When they’re about to break, waves have deeper troughs.

Well, the wave I was attempting to ride was breaking. Thus, when I positioned myself in front of the wave, I was instantly sucked under.

The force of the water yanked my board from my hands, shoved me down, spun me around and then ground my face in the sand.

The whole episode lasted for probably less than a minute.

When I came up out of the water, I couldn’t feel my face. I just knew something was broken. Like my nose.

My parents, who were sitting on the beach, noticed something was wrong and came running over. I was standing there, shocked, awkwardly trying to pat my nose and simultaneously tell my folks what happened.

Thankfully, my nose was not broken. My face and my teeth remained intact.

I was, however, spitting blood and saliva. When the wave knocked me over, I bit the inside of my lip pretty hard. Miraculously, the injury wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

All I could tell my parents was, “It felt like an 800 pound man fell from the sky and landed on my head.”

I’m sorry if that offends you, but that was all that came to mind at the time.

And hey, that estimate may not be too far off base. tells me that a gallon of saltwater weighs about 8.5 pounds. I’m not sure how many gallons of water crashed down on me that day, but I’m guessing there were several.

This reminds me of something I read a few days ago.

Oswald Chambers writes,

The surf that distresses the ordinary swimmer produces in the surf-rider the super joy of going clean through it.

I didn’t experience the “super joy” of riding the wave that day, because I didn’t know how to ride it correctly. I thought that I understood the wave. I thought that I knew how I should respond to it.

So much for thinking.

Using the wave metaphor, Chambers reflects upon Romans 8:37. In this passage, the apostle Paul writes,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (ESV)

“These things” that Paul refers to are: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword (Romans 8:35).

In this broken world, suffering is unavoidable.

Often times, our trials feel like the waves of the sea. Immense. Threatening. Heavy. Bone-crushing.

We want God to take away our pain and suffering. We want the waves to cease.

Sometimes, God does exactly that. Sometimes, he calms the storm.

And sometimes, he does not.

As Chambers points out, the best surfers are not afraid of the biggest waves. Instead, they are energized by them. Yes, this may cause some people to think that these surfers are nuts (self included). But any fear these surfers feel is superseded by the thrill of victoriously riding a monster wave.

God may not remove the waves of heartache from our lives, but he can certainly teach us to ride them.

Chambers writes,

The bedrock of our Christian faith is the unmerited, fathomless marvel of the love of God exhibited on the Cross of Calvary, a love we never can and never shall merit. Paul says this is the reason we are more than conquerors in all these things, super-victors, with a joy we would not have but for the very things which look as if they are going to overwhelm us. … tribulation, distress, persecution, produce in us the super joy; they are not things to fight. We are more than conquerors through Him in all these things, not in spite of them, but in the midst of them. The saint never knows the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it.

When a surfer chooses to ride a wave, he or she takes a great risk. One wrong move or one wrong estimate can result in broken bones or far worse (for more on this subject, check out this article from the Huffington Post).

It is far safer to remain on shore, for a surfer cannot control the ocean. It is entirely unpredictable.

But a surfer without surf is no longer a surfer. A surfer without surf is just another person standing on the beach.

At some point in our lives, we have to decide whether or not we will allow God to teach us to surf. He will not force us to learn.

The waves are going to come. We can try to escape them. We can try to fight them. We can try to handle them in our own strength.

Or, we can entrust ourselves to the One who has power over the waves. The One who created them knows how to ride them, for he has ridden them himself.

So, if you are ready to learn to surf, go grab your wetsuit and your board.

Jesus will meet you at the beach.










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