I love lists. Well, love doesn't really describe it. Obsessed, maybe. I've seriously thought about creating a shirt that says something corny and awful like "Lists for Life," and I'd wear it every. single. day.
Yeah, I love lists, and there are very few things more fulfilling to me than checking something off those lists.
So, naturally, when it came to the gospel, I loved nothing more than to look at my spiritual to-dos (under "Spiritual" on my—you guessed it—lists app) and swipe them off as I went throughout my week.
Read my scriptures for 15 minutes? Check.
Read a conference talk? Check.
Go to church? Check.
Pay my tithing? Check.
Pray morning and night? Check and check.
I thought if I could just stick to the list each week, it would be enough. Because this is what good Mormons do, right? Read their scriptures, pray, pay their tithing, go to church. It all made sense to me why I was reminding myself to do these things. I didn't see how I was shortchanging myself.
Case in point: I was having a really tough year last year, which was weird because it looked like everything was going my way. But I just didn't feel like I was getting what I needed spiritually. I started adding more things to my lists, like going to the temple more often or spending more time reading my scriptures.
I was sure the reason why I felt a spiritual dearth was because I didn't have enough to-dos. This, of course, caused me to feel burned out and disappointed with myself because while lists are my thing, realism isn't.
Then I started to pray. Like really pray instead of the quick, "Please bless everything will be okay" prayer while driving to work with a bagel in my mouth. (But let's be real, sometimes that's all we can do and that's okay.) And with just that little effort, I felt like I was growing spiritually again.
I had been stunted in my spiritual growth for so long by only thinking about the to-dos and not the why for the to-dos. Moroni says it perfectly: "Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you" (Moroni 10:32).
It is so much easier for me to just check things off my list than to give God my whole "might, mind, and strength," but that's what we need to do. No amount of checklists can ever make up for that.
As LDS author Ted L. Gibbons said:
"So often we are satisfied with sliding around on the surface of things. 'I listened to conference.' 'I attended my meetings.' 'I read the scriptures.' If we stop here, Lucifer wins. We must go beyond taking our bodies and eyes into the correct places. We must take our hearts to a higher place than they have ever been before" (Ted L. Gibbons, Book of Mormon Lesson 48: "Come Unto Christ").
It's not that I wasn't trying hard or doing the right things by using a checklist, because I was. But I was using the training wheels of spiritual progression in the Tour de France of life, wasting my energy and wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere when I should have been riding a bike.
Sister Ester Rasband explained this perfectly when she said:
"Some of us devote our lives to doing everything the instruction book outlines and then consider good feelings our right. And then we are angry when peace does not accompany our accomplishment. We may become exhausted from the effort, and still we do not have a feeling of well-being. We feel we have done our part and have been cheated" (Ester Rasband, "Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem").
► You'll also like: Why Spiritual Checklists Are Burning You Out
So how do we avoid being a checklist Mormon? Well, it takes a little more effort at first, but start with saying sincere prayers. As Elder David A. Bednar said:
"Meaningful prayer requires both holy communication and consecrated work. Blessings require some effort on our part before we can obtain them, and prayer, as ‘a form of work, . . . is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings’ (Bible Dictionary, ‘Prayer,’ 753)" (“Ask in Faith,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2008, 95).
Even short prayers, when sincere, can have extraordinary power in our lives. As President M. Russell Ballard said:
"Every honest and sincere prayer adds another piece to chain-mail armor. . . . One of the most important ways to clothe yourselves in the armor of God is to make sure that prayer—earnest, sincere, consistent prayer—is part of your daily lives” (“Be Strong in the Lord,” Ensign, July 2004, 10).
I noticed once I began making efforts to sincerely pray, other things fell into place. I began really pondering and studying my scriptures, looking for sincere and genuine ways to serve others, and making efforts to think about the why behind my actions instead of doing them just to do them.
I still love lists, and I think they are super helpful for a forgetful person like me in accomplishing things. But when it comes to spiritual matters, I don't need them anymore. I don't shortchange myself out of the blessings that come from, as Gibbons would say, trying to take my heart to a higher place.
Lead image from Getty Images
For 15 years, Time Out for Women has been inviting faithful women to step away from the daily routine and make space for themselves and their spiritual lives. What started as an inspirational weekend event full of music, cheering, presenters, friends, and laughter has grown into a worldwide community of like-minded women seeking good. Whether they connect through TOFW.com or at a local event, TOFW women are choosing to be uplifted, reenergized, educated, entertained, and inspired with thousands of women all over the world.