History of Hymns: 'All My Days'
By Mark Hixon
“All My Days”
Words by Laurie Zelman
Music by Mark A. Miller
Worship and Song, 3011
Zion Still Sings, 2
You know my words before they’re said.
You know my need and I am fed.
You give me life. You know my ways,
my strength, my path, for all my days.
Laurie Zelman © 2003 Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN.
The old proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” is as true in music as it is in other areas. If a composer needs a song for a specific occasion, the composer may write a new song or adapt an existing song. In 2003, Mark Miller (b. 1967) and Laurie Zelman needed a closing song for a youth musical they had written about Queen Esther. After some thought, they decided to use “All My Days,” which they had written the previous year as a congregational song.
Based on Psalm 139, the text explores how people can understand their relationship with God, a relationship based on faithfulness, care, and protection. The first stanza, spoken directly to God, reflects on how God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows our thoughts, our ways, and the direction of our lives. This relationship is not a casual one. As the opening verses of Psalm 139 indicate, this is a relationship of intimacy and understanding:
1You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. (NIV*)
The second stanza explores the care and protection that God provides. If we “lie down in deepest night,” God is with us and is our light. It is often said that the darkest period of a night is just before the dawn. The ability to see objects in the dark is difficult, which may result in people stumbling or having accidents. While we may be stumbling in the dark, we need not fear, for God is with us. No matter where we choose to wander, even to questionable places, God is with us.
In stanza three, the point of view changes from first person singular (I) to first person plural (we). While this is a change from the original psalm, this shift in point of view helps to demonstrate God’s all-encompassing presence. God truly is over everything, “the whole of time, the present day.” God is infinite and magnificent.
Finally, stanza four is a petition to God to “mend my heart and free my voice.” Once we are free from sin, we can rejoice. The singer asks God to search us further, to seek out our faults, so a song of praise may be lifted. This is an admission that, unlike God, humans are fallible. We make mistakes; we make wrong choices. However, we have the assurance that God will be with us and offer us the grace to correct our ways and make better choices.
The tune for “All My Days” is HIXON. When Miller and Zelman received word that the hymn was to be published, they chose to name the tune “HIXON.” This was to honor Stephanie Hixon, who at the time was leaving the United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, as general secretary. The syncopated rhythm gives the text an energy and joy of a song of praise. The repetition of the rhythmic motive aids in the congregation’s learning of the hymn.
This hymn is appropriate as a song of praise, especially after Communion or as a sending forth. For several years, the graduate students of Yale Divinity School have chosen “All My Days” as the recessional music for their commencement service. “All My Days” would also be appropriate during a service of confirmation. The addition of percussion and other instruments could enhance the song’s spirit of praise.
The song first appeared in Amazing Abundance: Hymns for a Growing Church (Abingdon Press, 2003), a collection of Mark Miller’s tunes, before being included in Worship and Song and Zion Still Sings. More recently, the song was chosen in an extension of the Christian Science Hymnal (2017).
Through his family, Mark Miller has strong ties to The United Methodist Church. Mark is the cousin, brother, son, and grandson of United Methodist ministers. He has earned degrees from Yale University (BA in music, 1989) and The Julliard School (MM in organ performance, 1991), and he serves as minister of music at Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey. He is also associate professor of church music and composer-in-residence at Drew University Theological School and a lecturer in sacred music at the Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University. Laurie Zelman began composing texts with Mark Miller during her seminary study at Drew University. She is an ordained deacon serving Montville UMC in Towaco, New Jersey, as a counselor for people with mental illness and substance abuse.
Hillary Doerries, “Mark Miller,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed February 3, 2020, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/m/mark-miller.
George A. F Knight, The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983).
Mark Miller, Facebook Messenger interview. Conducted by Mark Hixon, 3 Dec. 2019.
Montville United Methodist Church. Staff & Leaders, www.montvilleumc.org/.
*Verses Marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Mark Hixon is Director of Music and Fine Arts at Manchaca United Methodist Church, Manchaca, Texas, a position he has held since 2001. A graduate of Texas Wesleyan University (BME, 1988) and Texas State (MM in Choral Conducting, 2015), he serves as an officer of the Rio Texas Conference Chapter of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts.