Memorizing the Psalms as a Family
My husband's family has this great tradition. It was started by his grandparents Carrie and Asaph. They were missionaries in Africa, and because of regulations, their children spent most of their childhood a plane ride away in boarding school. Carrie and Asaph wanted to find ways to have a great spiritual impact on their children during their all-too-short time together. Out of this desire came the practice of memorizing Psalms together and saying them with their meals.
They carefully made a list of Psalms that they wanted their children to know, and then instituted the practice of saying one before and after each meal that they had together.
The tradition has been passed on, and now my husband and I have the opportunity help our kids learn these very same Psalms. I love how the spiritual impact has been much broader and deeper than what I think Carrie and Asaph envisioned.
Memorizing is hard! It take practice and it is often difficult to see the benefit. In our current world where information is at our finger tips, it is easy to think that the time for memorizing has past.
I have found that having these passages of the Bible, and others memorized has been so valuable to me at the times when I am weakest.
As I was struggling through Hyperemesis Gravidarum and could barely lift my head, I would work through the Psalms I had memorized and it brought an unexpected calm. When I'm up in the night with worries or fears, I don't even have to turn on the lights, I can find reassurance that God is in control and good. When the kids have nightmares, we can remind them of the Psalms they know that would bring them comfort. Of course I could have looked up the passages on my computer or phone, but because I knew them, they just came to mind when I needed them most.
The real challenge is to make time to review what you are learning. You want your mind go to go through it time and time again and really cement it into your memory. Finding a way to make review a habit has been the key to successful memorization for me.
Part of what is brilliant, is that this family tradition ties our practice to something we do every day: eat. It also ties our memory work to a community activity. The kids know that this is what we do, and are ready to participate. They like to pick their favorite Psalms, and in all honesty they learn them more quickly than I do. It is also an activity that connects us to our wider family. When my in-laws, or my husband's extended family come over for dinner, the Psalms are something we all share.
Here is how we have made this work.
- From the list of Psalms that are family favorites, we pick one and write it down. In our earliest days it was on a huge piece of paper that we then stuck to the wall, now it is on the white board by our kitchen table.
- We make sure that the kids know what the Psalm means and talk about what we learn from reading the Psalm. It is far easier to remember something if understand it.
- We find creative ways to help our kids remember. Sometimes it has been hand motions or sometimes we have drawn pictures that illustrate the Psalm (this was especially helpful when we had non-readers). We have even found songs that are the Psalm word for word. (This is translation dependent)
- Then we start to say it before each meal. We all stumble through the Psalm for the first few weeks. It is still on the wall so we can reference back to it if we need to.
- Once we have the Psalm memorized, we move on to a new one. A few meals a week we go back to an old familiar Psalm so those don't get forgotten.
Pick Psalms that are meaningful to you, and in a translation that will work for your family. Because we really value the family connection in memorizing, we have chosen to use the King James Version, and to start with the Psalm from Carrie and Asaph's list.
- Psalm 117- This is a great one to start with. It is short (only 2 verses) and has a great rhythm.
- Psalm 1- This Psalm helps us to know what a life of blessing looks like as opposed to a unrighteous life. Bonus- it tells you to meditate on God's law day and night. This is much easier when you just know it.
- Psalm 100- Starting with a raucous "Make a joyful noise" is a crowd pleaser.
- Psalm 8- This Psalm speaks of the praise from young children being used as a defense against God's enemies. The kids love the descriptions of all the animals that God created at the end of this Psalm too.
- Psalm 19- We are working on this now. It is on the longer side and is a bit of a challenge. It has great pictures of God's creation as a message to us in the beginning, and towards the end gives you a list of things that God's word is good for, and how valuable it is.
- Psalm 23- This is the first Psalm that I learned growing up. It is an all time favorite.
- Psalm 121- This Psalm reminds all of us that help comes from the Lord.
- Psalm 32- This is all about forgiveness of sin.
- Psalm 51- This Psalm leads you through confession of sin, and assures us of God's forgiveness.
- Psalm 70- Calls for God's help.