Surfing Waves of Doubt

I have a friend in Hawaii named Gavin. I call him the “Desert Son,” and he calls me the “Desert Father.” I met the Desert Son in a surf shop years ago. I was working on a book and doing research on second-century mystics who fled to the desert and became known as the Desert Fathers—hence the nicknames.

I was a newbie surfer filled with questions and trepidations about surfing. When I first learned how to surf, I battled many fears. How do I avoid getting attacked by the sharks? How do I  avoid getting hit by other surfers? How do I prevent the board from smashing me on the head? And then there was the reef. How do I avoid falling off my board and getting ripped to shreds on the sharp reef?

Gavin was born and raised on the island, so I asked him how to deal with my fear of the reef. He said, “Oh, I don’t know. After a while, you just learn to develop a relationship with the reef.” As a rookie surfer, I thought that sounded a little Zen, a little crazy. But the longer I’ve surfed, the more I have come to understand what the Desert Son was trying to explain to me.           

Without the reef, you wouldn’t have those perfect waves. Waves are created by the shape of the bottom of the ocean floor. Reefs are beautiful, colorful, brilliant, and alive … but on the other hand, they are also razor-sharp like a surgeon’s scalpel. I have scars on my body from hitting the reef. So it’s dangerous, but at the same time, the reef is the ecosystem that keeps the ocean alive, and it also provides the necessary contours to produce perfect waves that bring inexpressible and glorious joy to surfers. Now I understand what having a relationship with the reef is about. You respect it for its danger, and you enjoy it for its power and beauty.

Doubt is not unlike the reef. Doubt can hurt you, but it can also shape your faith. Doubt drove me to dig deep into the foundations of the Christian faith. Doubt introduced me to intelligent and wise Christian thinkers. Doubt caused a major crisis in my life, which opened up the door for my understanding of grace. Doubt made me a better student of life. Doubt helped me understand the questions of my skeptical friends and to be patient with them. Doubt delivered me from the search for certainty and pointed me in the direction of trust and faith. That’s what befriending doubt did in my life.

As I look down at my feet right now, there are scars from hitting reef while surfing. But there’s joy in remembering how wonderful riding those waves were. I have scars in my life from my doubts, but also a lot of joy because they led me to a deeper faith.

Excerpt from Room for Doubt: How Uncertainty Can Deepen Your Faith.

Ben Young