People often ask me, because I live in southern California, if I surf. My answer is: I am retired. Here’s the story on my surf career, which lasted all of thirty-two minutes:
The year was 2008. I was on tour in Sydney, Australia with my band. On the day in question, we had planned a surf lesson for our entire touring party with two professional instructors. Since the day it was planned-some two months prior-I had been daydreaming about it. More specifically, I had imagined myself ducking into six-foot tubes as all onlookers were hopelessly floored by my skills. I thought to myself, How hard can it be? I am a decent athlete. I am a good snowboarder. I should be able to pick up surfing pretty easily.
Before we even set foot on the beach I had already won the OP Pro in my own mind. I envisioned easy, immediate glory. So, upon arrival at our surf spot, when the instructors mentioned that our first lesson would be on the sand, rather than in the water, I actually got slightly offended. My inner monologue echoed not only my sentiments, but my best attempt at surf slang: I don’t need an intro lesson. Doesn’t this howley know who he is dealing with? I am about to shred some six-foot, tubular gnar-gnars.
While the rest of my crew endured a sixty-minute surf-101 sermon, I stood in the background, far from the group, checking my email on my smart phone, ignoring the words of instruction from our long-haired mentors. Then, finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we grabbed our boards and headed to the water. Go time. The hour of glory cometh. I. Am. Shred.
I sprinted to the water. The wind soared in my ears as I built momentum. My feet slapped the soggy sand as I took to the air, diving with my board in front of me…
…and reality, along with seven feet of polyurethane foam, smacked me in the face. My chin collided with the surfboard as I dove, and I flailed awkwardly into the shallow water. I lost my grip on it, and watched as the tide carried it back to shore. Cheeks flushed and painfully aware of the chuckles of my peers, I paced to the beach. My ego was bruised, but not defeated. I clutched my shred stick and resolved to be more strategic on attempt number two; instead of sprinting and diving, I walked, while floating the board into the water.
My cohorts had already made it past the break, sitting on their boards as the pros taught them how to catch waves. Meanwhile I was alone, trying to solve the galactic riddle of how to get up and lay on a surfboard to from the standing position in the water. For ten minutes I floundered, flipping over time and again, salt water burning my nose and eyes. When I finally got up on the board and began to paddle, I found myself losing ground. So I paddled harder. I finally made it out to my friends after what seemed like an hour. My arms, shoulders, and back throbbed. I thought to myself…why do people do this again?
Now, if I had listened to the lesson on the beach I would have understood the science/fragile art of sitting on the board. Instead, I toppled into the ocean repeatedly, wondering if any nearby sharks were witnessing my wounded seal impressions. Giggles and clapping erupted from my bros when I finally got up. That was right about when God had a good laugh at my expense and sent a huge wave to hurl me into the abyss.
When I came to the surface I was on the beach again, gasping, coughing, fuming, and cursing. I found the stupid piece of (obviously defective) sporting equipment that had betrayed me a hundred yards down the beach, and tossed it inland as far as I could.
I officially retired from the sport of surfing, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Exhausted to the core of my being, I laid in the sand, watching my friends fail time and again, wondering if anyone would stand up for even one ride. After six hours, finally, a couple of the guys rode waves for a few brief seconds. I asked them, when they returned, if it was worth it…all the work, failure, and pain. And they each beamed with smiles as they yelled, “yes!” I was surprised at the time, but now it makes perfect sense.
This is what I realize, now, looking back: Surfing is a slow-burn. It takes hard work and time before you can really ride waves. It is not a sport for those looking for immediate gratification or glory. But for those who can endure the learning curve, there is great payoff. The hard process of learning to surf prepares you to appreciate the reward that is the eventual ride.
My experience with surfing is a metaphor, in many senses, of a spiritual situation that is at play with us men today. Many of us crave instantaneous fulfillment-we want immediate positions of influence in our careers and churches. We want to change the world, here and now. We want to be important and successful. And some of us are asking God why we aren’t being given more opportunities to shine, more opportunities to display our talents, abilities, and passions, why our endeavors haven’t been as successful as we have dreamed. Some are even discouraged because our goals haven’t come to fruition as quickly as we want them to.
But maybe the brick wall we often hit in our ambitions is not God trying to hold us down, but rather God teaching us about faithfulness and integrity. Maybe he is preparing you to appreciate a future opportunity.
Pastor Rick Warren tweeted something recently that stuck with me. He said, “A desire to change the world without starting with myself leads to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy.” I have both experienced and witnessed this principle at play many times. Overnight success, especially in the realm of influence, usually translates to spiritual bankruptcy and/or a fall. Yet, this is what we want…success without work.
I have found that God is not like the dad who lets his son drive His Mercedes on his 16th birthday. He is like the dad who pushes you to get a job to pay for a beaten-down 1981 Toyota pickup, so you will appreciate the fact that you don’t have to walk to school anymore. Then, after driving the beater for three years-which requires maintaining it and taking care of it-he gives you the Mercedes because he knows you have been prepared to cherish it.
Jesus said, One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? – Luke 16:101-12 ESV
God cares more about us than our success. I repeat: he cares about us, first. Which is why he desires that we learn faithfulness in the small things before we “graduate” to ever-greater opportunities in our lives. This is especially true in whatever respective sphere of ministry we are involved in…beit music, church, social activism, media, or volunteer. Faithfulness builds integrity. Without integrity, we will lack the foundation of character necessary for influence. With integrity, not only will we influence in be blessed with “important” responsibilities, but we will also be protected from the pitfalls which many times accompany meteoric rises.
Why has God not opened the door to huge success, blessing, and opportunity in your life? Because without the bedrock of Integrity which is derived from faithfulness we have no business pretending we can lead or influence others. And maybe because we are not listening to the Faithfulness 101 lesson he is repeatedly trying to teach us.
Consider this: A faithful, integrity-filled man is of great value because this type of man is rare. This type of man is of great quality, and will rise to the top of his respective field because of who he is. His reputation will precede him as someone who stands out among the crowd as trustworthy.
Today, be faithful in keeping your oaths to others. Return phone calls and keep your commitments to your girlfriend or wife. Resist the temptation to be a flake. Commit to whatever work is on your plate with all of your heart, even if the “work” you are doing at the moment doesn’t seem important or meaningful. Offer to be there for a friend in need. Commit to being honest, even if it means enduring conflict. Be consistent even when those around you are not. Do the work, and eventually, doors will open as a result.
The payoff will be worth the price, believe me.
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