Bear Grylls says that people often refer to big challenges he has taken on – climbing Everest, crossing the Atlantic, surviving in jungles – but to him, these are the least interesting parts of his story.
He says that behind every summit or achievement that makes it into the headlines, like all of us, he has had a string of failures. “My life is much more of a collection of struggles, doubts, and fears, some of which I overcome, some I don’t,” he says in his 2019 book, Soul Fuel.
To get through the challenges of life, Bear has said that one place he gets strength is his faith. “Like a fire steel or a length of good rope, my faith is another essential in my arsenal for survival,” he says. “But it is so much more. It’s my backbone, the heart of it all, the greatest source of any strength I have.”
Faith over works
Bear has said that his Christian faith Is not about being religious, or about church or priests, but about the force of love behind the world’s Creator. “In fact, I really battle with religion as such,” he writes in Soul Fuel. “It seems so divisive and full of rules. Both those things turn me off. Church often portrays itself as so neat and perfect. Life is neither of those things.”
In the book, Bear says that when he went away to boarding school as a teenager, he was forced to sit through endless “dull, loveless and irrelevant” religious services in chapel. “Faith died a slow death. Death by boredom. Death by religion. Death by irrelevance,” he says.
However one night, aged 16, he had climbed out of a window at his boarding school, in the middle of the night, to set off for his favorite tree and secret hideaway. He had just received the news that his beloved godfather, Stephen, had died suddenly.
He says he was feeling angry, confused, and lonely, and when he climbed the tree he started sobbing, and then he felt a calming presence, which started an ember of faith. Since then, whenever he has had to face something fearful, he says he prays quietly and for strength “from someone bigger, braver, and stronger.”
He has said that he often kneels in the morning for quiet reflection. “Any strength I do have seems to come in the quiet moments at the start of my day. It comes when I am on my own, on my knees. It comes from taking time to be still with God.”
Bear says that his faith has given him a secret strength and help when he has needed it most. “It has provided me with a real anchor to my life and has been the secret strength to so many great adventures,” he notes in his 2011 autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears.
“To me, my faith is all about being held, comforted, forgiven, strengthened, and loved – yet somehow that message gets lost on most of us, and we tend only to remember the religious
nutters or the God of endless school assemblies. This is no one’s fault, it is just life. Our job is to stay open and gentle, so we can hear the knocking on the door of our heart when it comes.”
Bear believes that however difficult someone’s situation is in life, his faith reminds him that there can always be hope. “Hope transcends everything: every pain, sorrow, fear, and loss,” he says.
He believes that even a glimmer of hope is enough to be the light to the dark, the comfort to the pain. “Great fires are started from tiny embers. Just hold on and look up,” he says in Soul Fuel. “Hope through the pain and through the doubts.”
Laughter is good medicine
Bear also notes that faith reminds him to see the lighter side of life, writing in Soul Fuel that “a cheerful heart is good medicine”.
“Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. We need to laugh at situations—and ourselves. Laughter is like an internal workout. It exercises our spirit and helps keep our hearts and minds healthy. Laughter, happiness, and joy. These might sound like simple things, but don’t underestimate their power to bring life and light to all around you.”
Searching for happiness within
Bear says that so many people in the world today are desperately searching for happiness in all kinds of places: “fulfilling relationships, a great job, a nice boat, becoming president, becoming a billionaire, or simply enjoying a good wine”. While he does not think that any of these things are wrong, he believes that on their own, they won’t lead us to lasting happiness.
“In fact, the pursuit of these things can be one giant dead end and distraction in our pursuit of happiness. I have seen more misery from power, wealth, and fame than from any other corner of society. None of us want to spend our whole lives hunting down happiness in all the wrong places.”
“The happiest people I know have found it within, not without. This can take us a lifetime to figure out.”