Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was arguably Finland’s greatest composer. Perhaps his most famous work was the patriotic symphonic poem “Finlandia”, which is one of Finland’s most important national tunes. If you’re familiar with the hymn, “Be Still My Soul,” its melody is based upon choral melody of “Finlandia.”

Sibelius was a prodigious composer, producing seven symphonies and numerous other orchestral works from the 1890s through 1926. His last known piece was “Tapiola”, written in 1926. For the remaining thirty years of his life (1926-1957), he apparently wrote or finished nothing. During this same period, he said virtually nothing about his music. Sibelius went silent.

One possible explanation is that he lost his intrinsic motivation. In 1897 he was awarded a government pension which, in theory, allowed him to work on his compositions without having to worry about his finances. He bought land in the country and with his wife Aino built a house where they lived out the remainder of their lives. The theory is that over time since he had all his extrinsic needs met, he gradually lost his inner motivation. Dangling a large carrot (in this case, a lifelong pension) in front of him eventually stunted his motivation to challenge himself.

Whether this is true or not is debatable. Sibelius lived large, frequently running up debt. He loved drinking, smoking, and partying. His tendency toward alcoholism was well known. Many believe that these were factors in his sudden silence. 

Sibelius was also a perfectionist who was notoriously self-critical of his work. He often would rewrite and tweak portions of earlier works and was rarely completely satisfied with his music.

I suspect that the silence of Sibelius involved many factors. However, the notion of intrinsic motivation is important. The highest form of motivation for mature, responsible, productive people comes from within.

What does this have to do with being a Christian? Jesus said that the greatest command for God’s people is to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might” (Deuteronomy 6.5). This kind of commitment comes from within – from the heart, from the soul. In a culture like ours, which so strongly emphasizes external rewards, we forget that the most important things don’t have price tags attached.

What is it that really moves you? What gets you going and keeps you going? If the answer doesn’t come from your heart’s commitment to God, you’re looking in the wrong places at the wrong things. 

God deserves better, and so do you.