The Promise and Practice of "Yet"
I don’t have tattoos, but if I were to ink something permanently on my skin, it would probably be the word "yet." These three letters are active with anticipation. And I find this word propels me in conversation and decision-making. It comes up often when reading the Psalms. I will yet give thanks. The word "yet" brings together what I intend to do and what I actually do, though more often than I like to admit, there’s a significant gap between those two things.
Hannah’s story in the Old Testament is like the word "yet." Hannah becomes the mother of Samuel -- eventually. But before that, Hannah spends years of hoping and pleading for a child. She counts years of wanting to know her place with God, her family, and her society, but Hannah experiences a long season of not having what she desires. Her voice in the narrative reminds me of 18th century hymn writer, Anne Steele, who also courageously traces her doubt like a close shadow to her faith;
“Has thou not bidst me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?...
Yet gracious God where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust.
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.”
-from Anne Steele’s hymn, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul”
With great honesty, Steele voices her complaint to God knowing that it is in his very nature to have mercy. The tenacity of Hannah’s prayer is also equal parts hope and protest, like a daughter who knows she is loved by her Father though she is experiencing great discomfort. Steele and Hannah show me something of what it means to learn to sit up close with a God who sees and listens.
Earlier this year, I wrote an album of musical adaptations around some ancient Psalm texts. In some of my more despondent moments, Psalm 42 has been a great comfort.
"Why are you so full of heaviness,
why are you disquieted within, O my soul?
I will say unto my God, my strength,
How is it you have forgotten me?…
Put your trust in God,
I will yet give thanks to him!"
- from “My Help, My God” (adapted from Psalm 42)
There it is again: that little word "yet" in the chorus of the Psalm as a powerful, connecting word. I will yet give thanks. Whether Hannah is barren or blissfully holding her newborn son, or the first day at home after giving Samuel to live away from home (at the temple), like the Psalmist, Hannah declares, “I will yet give thanks.” The open-handed receiving that she demonstrates takes practice and a perpetual supply of grace. The practice of faith teaches us to believe that God is for us even when circumstances arrest us with pain or disappointment.
We know people by seeing what they do. We know something about Hannah’s strength by of the action of her obedience. She follows God’s guidance over and above cultural expectations, relationships, or emotions. Once God gives her this child, immediately after the child is weaned, her action of gratitude is quick and open-handed. Declaring “this child is yours” is as forceful and courageous as her prayer in asking for the child in the first place. In gratitude, she takes the child to live his life as a servant of God, to be raised by the priest, Eli, at the temple. Her husband supports her, saying, “Do what seems best to you.” And her son, Samuel, goes on to live out a remarkable story of his own. Hannah’s open-handedness is a doorway to Samuel’s fruitful life, and Samuel blesses many people as a faithful priest.
Hannah demonstrates true intimacy in her relationship with God, not just religion. There is a profound reciprocation happening between them, each giving to the other. As badly as she wants a child, her plea isn’t the grasping, narcissistic, possessive kind of desire. Instead, it’s a bold, declarative, open-handed, God-honoring request. She asks and she lets go; she receives and she lets go. Her heart is open and aligned to God’s purposes, not killing or repressing her desires, but bringing them into God’s presence. She is patient and expectant that she is heard and seen by a Father who is not out to keep her from happiness or fulfillment. And she sets herself continually at his mercy, inviting his providence into her life.
I recently got together with some friends to record live versions of a few songs from the Psalms album here in Nashville. As I was listening back to the performance of “My Help, My God” that we captured, I realized how different the mood sounds compared to the album version of the same song that we recorded last year in Brooklyn. They are the same melodies and the same words, but the album version is a more quiet, pleading, almost fragile declaration. This recent version has a fierceness to it, as if it has the word “YET” written on it in all caps. I will yet praise him. “Please, God let this be true.”
Whatever the circumstances, the emotion, or the instrumentation, songs like these help me set myself at his mercy. The word "yet," as I read it on the life of women like Hannah and Anne Steele binds my heart again to the promise and the practice of faith. Always and everywhere, I will yet give thanks.
Sandra McCracken is a singer and songwriter who specializes in modern-day gospel songs. Her lyrics seamlessly combine the sacred poetry of old hymns with compelling personal confessions and narratives. Following the critical acclaim of her latest release, "Psalms" (2015), Sandra will be on tour in early 2016 with her band for the "Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs Tour."