Imagine building a life doing the thing that brings you the most joy.
You find a way to transform this joy into a career. You invest every ounce of effort into becoming world-class. You receive global acclaim as the best of your age. Experts look back on your contributions to declare you a history maker, an innovator, one whose creations changed everything.
Now imagine that the skill you need the most to be successful is suddenly taken away. What would you feel? Sadness? Bitterness? Remorse? Grief? Anger?
This is exactly what happened to Ludwig van Beethoven. This master musician spent a lifetime producing some of the most celebrated music of all time. More than that, his work transformed all the music that followed. If you enjoy modern music of almost any style, you owe a bit of thanks to Beethoven. His work made that work possible.
By the end of his career, Beethoven was deaf. He lost the one skill that seems critical for a musician. I’m certain it was frustrating. He must have experienced the grief associated with the loss of something so beloved.
But he didn’t stop. He kept writing. He kept making music. That’s the nature of passion. Deep passion won’t let a little thing like ability stand in its way.
You might expect to hear grief and bitterness in his final piece of music. No one could fault him if his last symphony wasn’t as good as the ones before — he was, in fact, deaf.
But one more time he poured himself into his passion. For this song, he adapted a poem. One that expresses exactly the opposite of what you might expect a deaf musician to feel.
“Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love. Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
I find it remarkable. This Sunday, in churches around the world, people will sing the song Beethoven never heard. Another man, named Job, experienced the elation of success and the devastation of loss. His response was much like Beethoven’s: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
This day comes for us all. The day when our abilities no longer keep pace with our dreams. How will you respond?
As your life gives way to the relentless march of time and age, remember this Ode to Joy. May you lean into your passion. May you stand with Job and sing with Beethoven. May you honor God who gives and takes away. May you bless His name and produce something that inspires generations.
That’s the power of using who you are and what you have for the benefit of others — whether you hear it or not.