Jeremiah 18:3-6 New International Version
3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.
The hymn was inspired in 1902 by a simple prayer of an elderly woman at a prayer meeting: “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord — just have your way with our lives . . ..”
The author, Adelaide A. Pollard (1862-1934) was born in Iowa. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck provides a detailed description of her life. He notes that following her education in elocution and physical culture, she moved to Chicago where she became a teacher in girls’ schools. In addition, she developed a fine reputation as an itinerant Bible study teacher. Later, she worked with two evangelists, one who developed a healing ministry, and the other who focused on the imminent return of Christ.
Pollard had a strong desire to be a missionary in Africa. When this plan was not fulfilled, she taught at a Missionary Training School at Nyack-on-the-Hudson. She finally made it to Africa for a brief period before World War I, but she spent the war years in Scotland. After returning to the United States, she continued her ministry even though she was in poor health.
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord” was composed during a time when Miss Pollard was trying to raise funds to make a trip to Africa. Her unsuccessful attempt to do this left her experiencing a “distress of soul.” This crisis of the soul and the simple prayer of an elderly lady provided a setting for personal reflection on the will of God for her life. After the prayer meeting, she returned home and wrote the hymn as we sing it today.
The text with its tune ADELAIDE was included in the Northfield Hymnal with Alexander’s Supplement (1907). Two changes were made for The United Methodist Hymnal: In stanza two, “Master” was changed to “Savior” and “whiter than snow” was changed to “wash me just now.” This change offers insight into the process of editing a hymnal.
The Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, noted in his Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal: “The Hymnal Revision Committee debate on the latter change was intense and sustained. Those proposing the change stated that one does not have to be white, a North European, or Anglo Caucasian to be perceived as spiritually pure and socially acceptable. An African American member said, ‘You can wash me as much as you wish, but after you’ve finished, I’ll be just as black, which is beautiful.’ Those who wished to retain the original argue that the reference to washing was not about the pigmentation of human skin, but to the soul as in Psalm 51:7, ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.'”
The third stanza perhaps is autobiographical, reflecting the struggle of Miss Pollard to discern God’s will for her life: “Wounded and weary, help me I pray!” This stanza also summons the “power” of Christ to “Touch me and heal me.” The final stanza invokes the Spirit to “fill” the singer, “till all shall see/Christ only, always,/living in me! The Rev. Young notes that, “In her last years she was attracted to extreme texts, living the life of a mystic.”