It’s hard to imagine that exactly seven days ago I had just returned from my week’s break in Malta. Taking a week’s complete break in the midst of a busy life was a first for me – I have to say, at age 39 that is not something I am particularly proud of – what I wasn’t expecting though, was the entirely foreign experience of re-entry. By day four after returning it felt as if I had been back for 2 weeks already and Malta was a distant memory! On reflection I realised it was because I was attempting to achieve 2 weeks work in 4 days. A friend reflected that I seemed to be working faster than had done for months. I spent most of the last week feeling pressured, frustrated, anxious and ended the week exhausted. I have concluded that I didn’t do the re-entry transition so well!
I have just finished a phone call with a friend. We were sharing together this powerful dilemma in which we and many others find ourselves. We each have a God given purpose or assignment – multiple ones would be my guess. And God has given each one of us gifts and skills, intelligent minds, curiosity and imagination, networks, access to information and the ability to problem solve. He has given them all for us to use towards our purpose… he didn’t say ‘now switch them off and go for it!’. My question this week though, is how do I live the life that God has called me to, with all that he has given me to live it, without doing it all in my own strength? How do I do it in his strength – without falling into the trap of sitting there like a lemon?
I shared last week from Malta’s history about the Knights of St John. It’s interesting that they started out as a catholic order expressing God’s kingdom by running a hospice offering care and hospitality to the poor and needy. Then things changed and they moved to bringing God’s kingdom through force and battle. It is not mine to judge, my point is that I see a lot of me in that. I love God and I want to see his Kingdom come, but sometimes there is a fine line between doing things His way, in his strength and doing things more or less his way but in my style and strength… which turns out not to be so much his way after all. As is always the case, nothing any of us can do will derail God’s purposes or stop him from being Lord of the Universes, he still uses our mishaps and detours, our best and our worst efforts, and he speaks to us and reveals his nature to us through it all. In the story of the Knights and in all our stories I guess, amidst all the human endeavour, we can see glimpses of God hand at work calling us on a pilgrimage to find him and discover what we were made for.
The picture i am getting is that there is a way of doing life, its the way God meant it to be done and I didn’t quite find it this week, I hope to find it soon. My hunch is that its not necessarily slower or less exciting, but rather less frustrating and much less exhausting!
I am struck by a country so small has such a history and heritage as to dwarf most others – it has been a privilege to be here this week. We stayed in what the locals call a village, but to me Mellieha is more of a small town. It seems that every part of Malta is expanding with new apartments and hotels going up on every piece of land available, Mellieha is no different in this respect. From our apartment we look out over the impressive catholic church that sits on the town’s main prominence overlooking Ghadira bay below, just beyond lie Camino and Gozo the two smaller inhabited islands that, together with the St Pauls Islands and Filfla, make up the archipelago of Malta.
We are facing north east, a short walk past the church opens up views of the north west shore of the island with Popeye village in the near distance – just five minutes on the bus takes you from Ghadira bay across the island to Popeye village. According to cab the driver when we arrived, the main Island is a mere 28K in length and 18 Km at its widest point. From our balcony we can see the Red Tower on the other side of the bay, it was built in 1647 one of many such towers along the coastline used as communications and lookout posts when the country was owned and ruled by the Knights of St John.
The Knights of St John together with St Paul seem to form the two central pillars of Malta’s history and culture. The Knights were originally the Order of St John of Jerusalem where in the 11hundreds they ran a Christian hospice Eventually their emphasis turned to fighting for their faith and in 1187 they were driven out of Jerusalem by Saladin. Based in Rhodes for a while they were eventually given the Islands of Malta in 1530 when all 4000 of them relocated to make the country their base. 35 years later the Turks joined forces to take Malta, their 30,000 against the Maltese 7,000, this first great siege in the history of the country lasted almost four months but finally ended as relief came from Sciliy. It is said that during the siege, Grand Master Valette (leader of the Knights) aged 72, threw himself into the fray inspiring his followers by his courage. Against all the odds, due to the resilience and courage of the people and their Knights, the Turks were defeated and this turned the tide of the expanding Ottoman empire on its march through Europe. This small nation literally turned the tide of history in Europe.
I’ll share more of my reflections on my time in Malta in other posts, but as I look back over my week in this incredible country, I am so grateful for the gift of inspiration I have received just by visiting a few places and hearing the stories. Once again as I sit with all this and recall many other similar stories, lives of friends, family and other heroes, I am somewhat awestruck by the capcity of the human spirit to dig deep and transcend the most difficult and painful situations, to find life and purpose in sacrifice, creativity, love and the giving of self for others.