Imagine you’ve been assigned a project in which you have no experience and the outcome of this project will be viewed by millions of people. On top of that, your rival tries to sabotage your efforts and ruin your reputation. Your work on the project causes you great physical pain. All the money you make goes to your needy and ungrateful family. You work such late hours you don’t even have time to change your clothes.
That is a description of the life and times of Michelangelo. He was sculpting the future tomb of the pope when the pope pulled him from that project to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo protested but the artist and architect Bramante convinced the pope to give Michelangelo this assignment. Bramante was a friend of Raphael and wanted to prevent Michelangelo from creating more great sculptures and hopefully fail at painting so Raphael would look superior.
The method of painting Michelangelo had to use was fresco, which he knew nothing about. He had many “learning moments” and re-dos, like when mold grew on one of the frescoed areas and required repainting. He had to invent a new type of scaffolding and stood for hours with his head tilted backwards. He suffered many ailments and eye strain due to the physical demands of painting upside down.
The pope paid him sporadically and most of the money he received was sent to his family. After his brother’s death, his brother’s wife sued the family for the return of her dowry. His other brother was constantly getting into trouble. His mother died when he was six, and the rest of his family was plagued with illness and poverty.
With all of these obstacles in his way, it is hard to imagine how Michelangelo did as well as he did. When he completed the Sistine Chapel, he was only 37 years old and lived to be 88, which is quite a feat in his time. By all accounts, no one worked harder than Michelangelo. He once said, “If people knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all. If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” He suggested that his genius was not so much innate as it was due to what he called “eternal patience.”
Eric Bess, an artist who wrote about Michelangelo, says, “Sometimes, our struggles can make life seem meaningless; our hardships can be so overwhelming that we want to find a hole in which to hide from pain. But, if we take any wisdom from Michelangelo’s story, maybe our ‘greatness’ depends on confronting life’s hardships with ‘eternal patience.’”
How hard is it for us to be patient? I know I’m not very good at it, yet it is not in my ability to know the time or way in which God will work things out. So I plug along, but I plug along with hope and with confidence that God’s got this. May we, like Michelangelo, be able to confront life’s hardships with eternal patience.