Cappella Sistina
Entrance to the Sistine Chapel.
(No pictures were allowed inside.)

While Michael and I were on our tour of the Vatican, our guide spent some time talking about the history behind the Sistine Chapel and the famed artist, Michelangelo, who painted it.

You can read on your own a more detailed account of what happened, according to Michelangelo, but I’ll just quickly relate the story here.

It goes something like this: At the time, the Pope’s conclave was in need of some refreshing and so he asks the famed fresco painter, Raphael, who he should commission to paint the chapel.

Raphael recommends Michelangelo – who was known more for his sculpting than painting.

Raphael’s hope was that if Michelangelo botched the painting of the chapel, Raphael’s own work would achieve greater recognition, meanwhile Michelangelo’s reputation as an artist would be ruined.

The Pope listens to Raphael’s recommendation and tells Michelangelo that he wants him to paint the chapel. But Michelangelo is hesitant and declines the Pope’s initial request because he believed he was only a sculpture, and not a painter.

But the Pope is insistent, and so some 500 years later, we have Michelangelo’s famously-painted ceiling and altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

When our tour guide was done telling this story, she asked a couple of incredibly powerful questions: “Just think, what if the whole time Michelangelo knew that he was more than just a sculptor and that he was a painter too? How many more Sistine Chapel’s would we have in existence today?”

Those questions got me thinking: How much is lost when we chain down our identities to what we believe we can or can’t do?

Then I began applying our guide’s questions a little differently to everyday life: What if I knew I was more than just a wife or a cook? What if that homeless man knew he was more than a homeless man? What if the kid who didn’t make the basketball team knew he was more than just a basketball player?

What if our identities weren’t wrapped up in our beliefs about ourselves?

What if we let ourselves be, as Mother Teresa once said, “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world”?

Historians have since gone back and said Michelangelo’s account of how he came to paint the Sistine Chapel is probably untrue, and that there’s no external evidence to suggest that Raphael had any plans to underhand Michelangelo.

But even if the story’s not true, don’t you think it’s sad that Michelangelo wrote it down as though it was? Don’t you think it says something about how Michelangelo viewed himself?

It makes me wonder too, where was the voice of truth in Michelangelo’s life? Who did he have in his life that could have encouraged more of his talents in painting as well as sculpting?

The Pietà
The Pietà by Michelangelo, inside St. Peter’s Basilica

No one can deny that Michelangelo was genius. And whether or not he painted a million more Sistine Chapels if had he considered himself a painter, doesn’t take away from all the other masterpieces he created.

But the tragedy of Michelangelo does not lie in his accomplishments or lack of accomplishments.The tragedy of Michelangelo is that he believed a lie that his painting skills were inferior and not worth investing in.

I’m not saying either that everyone’s a Michelangelo waiting to happen. There are just some skills we stink at, and we’d be fooling ourselves not to admit that. (We’ve all seen American Idol and what happens when people don’t have an accurate perception of their abilities).

But sometimes we’re actually closing doors to greater things when we mistakingly believe we don’t posses a certain skill or quality. And that’s a tragedy.

Many of us today have been believing a lie that we don’t have anything to offer the world. But Paul says in Romans that creation is groaning, waiting for the sons of man to be fully revealed.

And not only is all of creation groaning, but Jesus is yearning for us to walk in the fullness of His design too.

Living out the fullness of who He created us to be brings joy to the world, and glory to the One who meticulously sculpted and fashioned you before the world began.

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