Saying “sorry” is tough for everyone—not just kids, but adults, too. The difficulty of a truly heartfelt apology is all too frequently on display in the tortured confessions of public figures. The temptation to excuse or justify our actions, rather than taking responsibility for them and seeking forgiveness, is strong! Seeking forgiveness makes us vulnerable by putting us at the mercy of others. But turning away from sin and seeking forgiveness is central to the Christian life.
One way to nurture kids who aren’t afraid to admit their faults—and who trust that God’s mercy and healing lies on the other side of that confession—is to pray the psalms with them, particularly the Seven Penitential Psalms. These psalms are prayers expressing sorrow and repentance for sin, and seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness.
It has been traditional to pray these psalms during penitential seasons (such as Lent) since at least the seventh century. Here they are (click through for the full text):
Do not reprove me in your anger, Lord….
Blessed is the one whose fault is removed…
Lord, do not punish me in your anger….
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love….
Lord, hear my prayer;
let my cry come to you…
Out of the depths[b] I call to you, Lord….
Lord, hear my prayer;
in your faithfulness listen to my pleading….
You can get more information about the Seven Penitential Psalms, along with audio of the psalms and reflections on each, at the USCCB website.
Praying the Seven Penitential Psalms with Kids
Here are a few ideas for how to pray the Seven Penitential Psalms with your kids:
- Pray these psalms during your family prayer time, especially during Lent. Try praying one a day.
- Let your readers lead the family in prayer by reading the psalm aloud.
- Before praying the psalm, consider doing a simple examen with your kids.
- Allow at least 30 seconds (or, ideally, a minute) of silence for personal reflection before and after the psalm. Encourage your kids to use this time to make the words of the psalm their own.
- Talk about the reality of sin. Why is it important that we examine our actions and confess our sins? (Because only when we take our sins to God can he heal us and others of the hurt they cause.)
- Talk about the reality of grace and God’s mercy. Is there any sin that God won’t forgive?
- Ask your kids what kind of words and language they would use if they wrote their own “penitential psalm.” Do the Penitential Psalms offer a model for our own repentance, either to God or to one another?