The good news of the psalms for children and teenagers in an anxious age

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to address a group of folks who had gathered for a day of retreat in Round Top, Texas. Rod Gilbert, headmaster of Regents School of Austin, had invited me to speak to his faculty and staff on how the psalms might inform their work of mentoring students. I'd emailed him in advanced, asking him if there were anything in particular that his community felt was a pressing need or concern. He said yes.

He said that the idealism that informs their work as teachers--the hope that they'll be able to cultivate a sense of irrepressible wonder in children and to instill in teenagers a capacity for virtuous grit and a charitable, thoughtful approach to culture--is often at odds with the anxious spirit of our age. Kids are anxious. Teenagers are anxious, as are their parents. Testers and teachers and admissions committees are anxious, too. And that anxiety makes for an environment that is inimical to good learning.

As I prayed about what I might to say to these good people, I sensed the Spirit nudging me in a particular direction. As I put it in my opening talk:

"You and I as teachers have an opportunity to model what it means to be emotional mature for our students. If we can model this for them, showing them what it means to handle the pain and trouble of life in healthy ways, then we are giving them a fighting to face all of the unpredictable parts of their life in an emotionally healthy, life-giving way. But we cannot lead our students where we have not first been willing to go. It is imperative, then, that we take advantage of all the resources God has provide us as adults to become emotionally mature. One of the invaluable resources God gives us is the psalms. It is in the psalms that we discover a grammar for the fitting expression of sadness and anger. And it is in the faithful reading of the psalms that we cultivate, by God's grace, a capacity for a holy sadness and a righteous anger. This, I suggest to you, is good news for children and teenagers."

At the end of my second talk, I gave them a handout so that they could explore these ideas in small groups, as it connected to their particular work at the school. I share the handout here in the hopes that it might be helpful to other teachers, or even parents and pastors.

I've embedded a PDF of the handout here. And here below is the first part of the handout, along with one of the individual exercises I did with the group all throughout the retreat.


1. Our students need permission to feel things deeply.
2. Our students need space to be in the pit.
3. Our students sometimes need silence, and for that silence to be shared by others.
4. Our students need to be seen, because the pain is only magnified when they feel that it is unseen.
5. Our students need to be heard, because the pain is only magnified when they feel that it is unheard.
6. Our students need words to express what they feel and perhaps what they should be feeling. 


1. What is one thing that needs lamenting in your life or in your family?
2. What is one thing that you feel your students need to be able to lament?
3. Write down one thing that you might want to do to serve your students, or a specific student, this coming year in light of what the psalms offer us.


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