Latter-day Saint Life

Why Spiritual Checklists Are Burning You Out


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.

The Parable of the Box Under the Bed

A beautiful sister missionary knocked on our door one day in Montreal and said she wanted to talk with me. I had a particular admiration for her. She worked hard and gave much. We went to an upstairs bedroom to visit, and she kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on one of the beds while I sat up on the other one. Our conversation went something like this:

“Oh, Sister Rasband,” she began. “I'm so tired. I'm just exhausted.” It was certainly understandable.

“Take a day off,” I suggested. “Spend it in bed. Don't allow your health to deteriorate.”

It quickly became apparent that I was not understanding at all. “It won't do any good,” she said with frustration and anger.

“Sounds like the work is getting tough to do.”

“It's not that! It's just that I'm breaking my neck out here. Working unbelievable hours. And I feel like the Lord is never satisfied with my efforts. There's no peace at all!”

“Oh.” I was beginning to understand. “Maybe you're not giving the Lord what he wants.”

“I'm working 70 hours a week. I'm studying an hour every day. I'm teaching investigators and they're accepting the gospel. I'm keeping perfect records. For crying out loud! When is it enough?”

“Perhaps the Lord is not as much of a counter as you are. You need to give Him your heart. When He has that, the peace will come.”

“How much more of my heart can I give him? I'm practically all used up.” She buried her head in the pillow.

I got up and walked around the bed, then leaned down and put an arm around her. I was struggling for a way to explain it.

“The way you're doing things right now, it's as if you're writing huge checks to the Lord from your adequate bank account. He appreciates them and all that. He's putting the money to good use. But what He really wants is the box you keep under your bed. The one with the rock you found at the beach on your favorite day of all time, and that silly safety pin your boyfriend gave you that day he told you he loved you. Until the Lord has that box, it will never be enough. It will never be enough because that box is the symbol that there is something you hold more dear than him. Your need is to give him that box. If and when you can do that, the measuring will stop. You will feel him telling you when it is enough, and the peace will descend.”

Most of us have something that we would hold back—something that we think is too much for the Lord to ask. We measure; we keep score; we give what anyone ought to see is clearly sufficient. And we feel we need to carefully guard the box under our bed. We want to be the ones to say when it is enough. We misidentify our need, and peace eludes us.

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The Things We Withhold

Many of us have something in the box that we would withhold from our Father in Heaven. Sort of like saying, “Please, Lord, ask anything but that!” For some it is as small as Sunday football, while for others it is as important as status or peer-group popularity. It may be only that one more hour of our time or that one more dollar of our money. It may be someone on our visiting teaching list or home teaching list that we don't want to visit. Meanwhile, stress builds and peace eludes.

The real need of our hearts is total trust; it is to think in terms of being willing to give whatever is required by our Father in Heaven. We misidentify our need and believe instead that we need for God to be pleased with whatever we're willing to give—whatever we call “enough.” Peace, however, is a gift from God, and we cannot choose the terms on which it is given. Only God can do that. Unless we confront the true need of our hearts, we are apt never to fill it.

Most often, I think, the treasure we keep guarded in our little box is our patience or our trust. I talked with a young woman recently who had decided to marry a man who she knew would not make a good husband or a good priesthood leader for her and her children. “I've been promised a righteous companion,” she told me, “but I'm almost 30. I've been patient enough.”

The exceptional sister missionary who called on me in desperation that day in Montreal confided in me later that what she had been guarding was her autonomy. “I called missionary rules ‘the order of the white handbook,’” she said, “and it made me angry! I thought it was too many nitpicky little things, and I resented being told what to do.”

Whatever is in our box, we want to keep it under our bed. Our control of that box is precious to us. We put the limit of our service just short of our whole heart. We will nearly kill ourselves with checking off what ought to be enough, but yet we still may be withholding the box under the bed, something that represents where our heart is. We may not even be conscious of it. We may guard it without realizing we're doing so. But conscious or not, when we get to the point where we've checked off what we think should be enough, we withdraw, and then we fail to understand the stress that ensues. We might call this practice “checklisting.”

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The Consequences of Checklisting

Moroni said it well: “Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you” (Moro. 10:32).

It sounds so hard to give in a trusting, unmeasured way. And yet it is the measuring that wears us out. I am continuously amazed at how often the words come out: “I'm tired. I'm exhausted.”

It is precisely this exhaustion the Lord is addressing when he says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28).

It is obviously a problem of long standing that men and women need something they can do and look for something they can be done with. Neither are we the first to heap on our own backs a weight that is heavier than we can bear in an endless search for a measurable “enough.” As long as it is our own yoke and not his yoke, it is difficult and heavy. I think that's why he has given us the golden reassurance, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).

Once I believed that I could give well-being to others with no yoke at all—by telling them that they were wonderful just the way they were. Now I know that it was the equivalent of flattery and that I was trying to give them pride. It must surely have stood in the way of their peace. A yoke is necessary, I know now, but not a heavy “checklister's yoke.” It is the light burden and the easy yoke of giving your whole heart—doing all you can and looking to the Lord to make up for your inadequacy, “for I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men” (D&C 64:22).

We can have peace. It comes not so much in “outcome” as in “process.” It comes through identifying that the need of our heart is grace, and that grace comes when the motivation for our unmeasured doing is founded in love.

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The Source of Peace and Confidence

Checklisting is valuable for your daily “to do” list. It is helpful in personal goal setting and assessment of your progress—after all, checklists of sorts are part of such things as interviews for obtaining a temple recommend. But as a way to “bind the Lord” (see D&C 82:10) and demand peace, checklisting is worse than useless. It is a barrier to peace because the Lord works on the level of love: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). He alone fully knows our hearts (see D&C 6:16), and so the offering of grace is fully his decision; the binding is something he does to himself, with marvelous integrity and even more marvelous love, when we do what he says: that is, give him our whole might, mind, and strength.

Divine confidence cannot be achieved by seeking it, suggesting it, or acting as if you have it. It can't be bestowed by the praise of men. It can't be accomplished by behavior that is measured or checked off on a list or made simple. In fact, when used as evidence of outcome instead of process, any of these efforts will prove to be barriers to peace and therefore to true confidence. As long as the focus is on the self in any way, peace will elude us.

Self-assessment may be useful and self-development is a necessity. But self-vaunting will be a barrier—and self-indulgence absolutely deadly.

Peace, and therefore confidence, is an affair of the heart.

We would do well to seek, as the apostle Paul did in his prayers for the Ephesians, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17–19).

Lead image from Shutterstock

Ester Rasband has been known to call her book “an anti-self-esteem book,” which typically causes laughter and perplexed looks. But in Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem, she explains that she's not against gaining confidence. But the search for self-esteem, she says, will never bring us peace or happiness. She explains: “Inadequacy is the human condition and unless we tap into the adequacy of our Father in Heaven, we live in a somewhat fearful state—fearful that our inadequacy will cause us to fail and will stand in the way of our being loved and valued.” While society tells us that we must focus on ourselves to feel adequate, the scriptures teach that if we lose ourselves in service, we will find ourselves. Through personal examples, scriptures, and quotes, the author shows that seeking the kingdom of God first is what generates confidence and love for—and ultimately from—others as well. This brings what humankind truly craves—peace—not “self-esteem.”


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