By Mark Ellis
British adventurer Bear Grylls, who starred in the TV survivor series Man vs. Wild, has eaten snakes, scorpions, and the eyeballs of yaks to ward off hunger in treacherous corners of the world. But the backbone of his existence is a deeply rooted faith in God nurtured since his youth.
“I had a very natural faith as a kid,” Grylls told Relevant Magazine. “As a really young kid, I never questioned God. I just knew God existed and it felt like He was my friend.”
Grylls grew up on the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of Great Britain in the English Channel. He became a black belt in karate in his teens, started a mountaineering club at Eton College, and was one of the youngest in the world to scale Mt. Everest at 23.
His father, Sir Michael Grylls, was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and taught the younger Grylls how to climb and sail as a boy.
At school, his “wild, free, and natural” relationship with God was challenged by what he perceived as a religious spirit. “When I got to school it (Christianity) became a lot more religious and I thought, ‘I don’t like this,’” he told CBN. “It was all about church-going and people telling you not to smoke behind the bike shed. I thought if this is God, maybe I’ve got the whole deal wrong, so I kind of ditched my faith.”
At 16, he lost his godfather, who had been like a second father. “I remember wanting to pray, but not knowing how to,” he recalled to CBN.
Grylls climbed up in a tree and poured his heart out to God. “Will you be that friend to me that you were at five or six when it felt natural?” he asked.
He believes that special moment and his simple prayer represented “finding a faith” — or rediscovering the faith
of his youth. “It was no more complicated than that. And actually the amazing thing is that all God asks is that we sort of open the door and He’ll do the rest,” he told Relevant Magazine.
“So often we kinda hide behind our yearning for love and acceptance with loads of complicated theological questions, and actually once that’s stripped away what we really are is just somebody who wants to have that relationship with your Father.”
Grylls says there was something comforting about realizing Jesus wasn’t all about religion—that Jesus was, in fact, “the least religious person you’ll meet.”
Grylls met his wife Shara will training to climb Mt. Everest. But that adventure was not the biggest challenge of his life. Within a year after he and Shara were wed, his father – the most inspirational figure in his life – passed away at a relatively young age, 66. Shara also lost her father in the same time period.
“Losing my dad when we had just got married was a really tough one,” he admitted in an interview with The Telegraph. “Suddenly it was like, ‘Bang! OK. How are we going to pay the electricity bill? How are we going to look after our mothers?’ I felt totally thrown in the deep end. It always felt too early. We had to lean on each other, and that was when our marriage really started.”
At that low point they decided to attend the “Alpha Course” in Christianity. “It helped us in a very low-key, unpressured way to explore some big questions,” he says.
Alpha, a 10-week course on the basics of Christianity launched by the Rev. Charles Marnham at Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London – helped him and Shara cement their faith.
“Faith has been the wildest ride,” he told CBN. “And Jesus, the heart of the Christian faith is the wildest, most radical guy you’d ever come across. He was always hanging around with the prostitutes and the tax collectors and having parties and banquets, and I found myself drawn to that character, not the kind of fluff that we like to box as religion.”
“Jesus never said, ‘I’ve come so you can feel smart and proper and smiley and religious,’” Grylls told Relevant Magazine. “[Faith] is about finding life and joy and peace. I am not at church a lot because I’m away a lot, so I kind of cling to the simple things, like, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ and ‘I’m holding you by your right hand.’ The simple things is what I try to keep my faith like. Jesus is unchanging and we are forgiven.”
Grylls and his wife Shara have three sons, Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry—the last of whom was born on a houseboat moored on the Thames River.
Grylls points to their shared faith as a significant component of their marriage. “We’ve been married almost 10
years, and that’s been a great glue to our family, actually. I look back now and I think it’d be really hard without that faith together—that sustained us.”
He admits they are not regular church attenders in the conventional sense. “I’m away a lot,” he told The Telegraph. “To be honest, if the point is to find community and be encouraged, then I find the best church often happens with my kids. We’re at home on a Sunday. I’ll get out the old piano and sing a few simple kids songs and a little hymn. I stick to ‘He’s got Huckleberry, Marmie, in his hands…’
“That is church. We’ll read a little verse. You know, ‘I am holding you by your right hand.’ We’ll say a little prayer for each other and we’re done in seven minutes. It’s wonderful.” Then the family goes hiking or climbing together.
As a family man, Grylls is mindful of the risks in the adventurous lifestyle he carved for himself. “Life is risky. If we embrace it, look after each other and learn how to manage risk, we are all better off.”
“I for one do not want to reach the end of my life in a perfectly preserved body. I want to come flying in sideways, covered in scars, beaten up and screaming: ‘Yahoo! What a ride!’”