“Modern Saints and Modern Psalms: A Teaching Experience,” Ensign, Apr. 1979, 19
The lesson for my Gospel Doctrine class was on the psalms. I had read all one hundred and fifty psalms in the Bible, as well as some written by Joseph Smith, Nephi, and others, during the week before my class. But the further I went, the more inadequate I felt as a literary teacher. How could I help the class feel the power and beauty of this type of literature—its capacity to stimulate self-improvement and love of God? I wanted to somehow help them see that the psalms could be an inspiration for a better life.
After studying all week, I began to feel more confident about my preparation.
Sunday morning I gathered up my Bible and lesson manual and was on my way out the door, when I got the feeling that I should take a pad of paper with me so the class could write a personal psalm during class time. The thought caught me off guard. My class write a personal psalm as a class activity? What would the class members think? But I couldn’t dismiss the idea—because another one presented itself: take extra pencils with the pad.
I was getting a little impatient. Here I was trying to get to prayer meeting on time, and these thoughts kept coming into my head, causing me to do unnecessary things. I grabbed some pencils from the drawer, gathered up my books and my purse, and hurried to the car. But as I drove the twelve miles to church, I still felt uneasy—like I was not fully prepared—and I berated myself for not having a firm outline of my presentation in mind as I usually did.
In the church parking lot I remembered the pad of paper I had intended to bring. “Oh well,” I rationalized as I walked toward the building, “I didn’t plan to use it anyway.”
But by the time I reached the door of the meetinghouse, I knew I needed the paper. I went directly to the library, but the librarian hadn’t arrived yet, and I couldn’t find anyone with a key to the library. Fortunately, the ward Primary president offered to get me paper from her supplies.
During the prayer meeting I still worried about how to approach the psalm assignment. Would the class be critical? Would they participate?
Opening exercises were over all too soon, and I was standing before an unusually large class, plus several new faces—still without a complete lesson outline in my head. Taking a deep breath, I began: I greeted the class, wrote the word psalms on the chalkboard, then defined it and shared my feelings about the beauty of this form of expression. I spoke of David’s great psalms, and one brother read the twenty-third psalm for the class. Other class members then read portions of other psalms.
I glanced at the clock. About ten minutes of class time had expired.
Almost without realizing it, I turned to the chalkboard again and wrote thanksgiving. Then, somewhat hesitantly, I announced that I wanted each person to write a psalm of thanksgiving on the paper I would pass out. They would have five minutes to write, I told them, and then if any wanted to share their psalms with the class, we would listen. To my surprise, everyone took the paper eagerly.
I sat down, letting the class ponder quietly, and glanced again at the clock. Thirty minutes of class time remained.
“What if nobody wants to share his psalm?” I worried. “Maybe they’ll all be too embarrassed with their first attempt at psalm-writing.”
But a reverent feeling came over me as I glanced at the class. Deep in thought, they were all busily writing down praises of thanks to God. Only then did I realize that I had not prepared the activity from my own wisdom and judgment, but that it had come by the prompting of the Holy Ghost.
When the five minutes were up, for the first time that day I stood confidently before the class—knowing the complete order of presentation that was to follow. After sharing with the class the great feeling of reverence I had felt from them as they wrote, I asked if anyone wanted to read his psalm aloud. Many did. As they read, the feeling which settled over the group lifted our spirits and confirmed once again to me that the assignment had been an inspired one.
Although these hurriedly written psalms (five minutes doesn’t allow much polishing!) may not compete with the great psalms recorded in scripture, they became personal scripture to those who wrote them, and sounded like scripture to those who heard. Among the heartfelt expressions was this psalm by Brother Robert Newman:
Thankfulness I give to thee, O God,
For this family which thou
Hast given me
Each one, a precious child of thine.
Strengthen me to be deserving.
And this by Brother John Tinney:
For the opportunity of a second chance,
I praise thee;
Through repentance, my life has purpose again.
Praise to thy name.
David, the psalmist, became our friend and colleague that day.