My husband and I recently went to Hawaii to celebrate our ten-year anniversary. It was every bit as beautiful as the pictures: perfect weather, glorious views, and stunningly clear water. Our must-do list was extensive, but at the top was surfing the Hawaiian shores. Waikiki beaches have no shortage of board rental options, so we excitedly grabbed boards and presumptuously headed to the waves.
The hundreds of surfers made it look easy. But looks can be deceiving. Our entire rental period was a draining pattern of attempting (and failing) to “catch a wave.” Paddling fast and furious as the waves began to break, we would slowly try to stand, only to fall off almost instantly. Rinse and repeat. For an hour. We had a few brief seconds of actually standing on the board, but with a badly sliced toe from the reef, fatigued arms, and a defeated spirit, we spent the rest of the afternoon laying on the beach.
After physically recovering, our ambition returned and we invested in a pricey surf lesson. With only a few brief technique instructions from the expert, to my surprise I was up on my feet on the very first wave! It was an invigorating adrenaline-filled ride to shore; I grinned and wildly screamed “yeeeaaaaaaaahhh!!!!!” and flashed the “hang ten” sign to my husband.
I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to paddle out and do it again. And again. And again. The rush was a thrill unlike any I had ever experienced. But I learned more than just riding waves from that surfing lesson; I realized my surfing experience parallels journeying with Jesus.
Perfecting the Belly Flop
About two feet under our surf hole were gigantic, jagged, unleveled reef rocks. At least a dozen times our instructor stressed the importance of safe falling; it meant the difference between a great surf session and a trip to the hospital with serious cuts, broken bones, or a busted head. His advice? Don’t try to catch yourself to break the fall. Go for the belly or back flop techniques to safely wipeout.
Then someone asked what everyone else was thinking: “Isn’t that going to HURT?”
I silently reminisced of reckless childhood days when we belly-flopped off the pool deck, laughing at the pain while admiring the monstrous splash. Then I remembered the sting of my body slapping the water, often knocking the wind out of me; Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize belly flops aren’t really all that fun.
The instructor’s reply was profound: “The forward momentum will help break the fall; it only hurts if you aren’t moving forward!” At first, this seemed counterintuitive—wouldn’t the added speed thrust me with more painful force into the water? But he was the expert and confident in his technique because he had undeniable experience. As I carried my board out, I was reminded of something God has been teaching me over the last few months.
Jesus doesn’t expect us to catch ourselves during spiritual wipeouts.
The Spiritual Belly Flop
Nearly every major Bible character has a few documented wipeouts in Scripture. Take David, for example. His wipeout in 1 Chronicles 20—taking a census that angered God—his response paralleled my surf lesson. When confronted, he was given three choices of consequences for his foolishness and his reply was astounding: “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord for his mercy is very great. Do not let me fall into human hands!”
When we wipe out—because we will—God’s grace keeps us afloat safely from the razor sharp rocks below. We are safest when we simply fall into the capable hands of our great God.
I had my share of wipeouts that afternoon, some due to my ambition and others to the mighty waves. But each time I flew off the board, I practiced surrendering to the wave, falling helplessly flat into the water. And each time I was relieved to discover I was indeed floating.
Our human nature guarantees a life of falling, and that’s okay. Sometimes trying to take bigger steps of faith makes me more prone to wiping out: instead of responding, I react. Instead of selflessness, I am selfish. Instead of trusting, I doubt. When I should pray, I worry. I move when God whispers wait, and speak when I should listen.
As we ride the waves of life with Jesus, wipeouts are inevitable. Sometimes the falls are tough, aren’t they? But when you are moving forward, they are remarkably less painful. When we realize wipeouts are part of becoming more Christlike, we find the courage to get back on, paddle out, and ride again. The exhilarating joy of successful wave-riding is absolutely, totally, completely worth the wipeouts.
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