In Defense of the “Checklist”
I was twelve when I was first given a “checklist.” It wasn’t presented to me in that way by any particular person, but instead, it was a page in my Personal Progress book titled “The Standards of Personal Worthiness.” Under the title were listed tasks/concepts such as “I pray in private daily,” “I obey the Word of Wisdom” “I am morally clean,” and “I help make my family life better.” I was under the impression that these were the things the bishop would as me about at my birthday interviews and so I was responsible for this list. Some of the things I could mentally check off each night, but others were more vague and weren’t something that could be measurably demonstrated.
It was a long list (18 bullet points!), and it was overwhelming even then. And since then, it seems like the “List” has only gotten longer. The current Personal Progress book has three pages of “worthiness” discussion, with paragraphs! Mine was just a single page list of bullet points.
While not as popularly advertised, the young men in my ward were given a “checklist” too. Our ward required the young men to recite “The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood” after the young women recited the Young Woman Theme in combined fifth Sunday or mutual activities.
This is all to say that we Mormons do checklists and we start them early and they can be overwhelming and intimidating. They are long and we are accountable for them to a bishop or youth leader who gets to determine whether or not you are “worthy” for the next youth baptism trip, level of ordination, ecclesiastical endorsement for school, or temple recommend. That’s a lot of pressure.
From the title of this post, you will guess that I’m about to defend the church checklist, after so many blog posts have bemoaned its woes. And you guess correctly.
I believe that everyone has a spiritual language or two, maybe even more than that, through which they feel connected to God, or the Divine more so than any other way. Spiritual langues include, but are not limited to, ritual, song and hymn, art, dance, physical activity, communing with nature or people, service for others, prayer or meditation, reading and study, writing, and friendship. It can take a while to figure out your spiritual language, or it might come so naturally to you that there’s no question as to what it might be.
And this is where I believe the checklist comes in. I have learned to see the checklist, not as a to do list, but as a suggestion list. And I don’t believe it is complete. But I think it is a good starting place for children and youth and even adults, if they are trying to find a way to connect with God. It covers a large range of spiritual languages: daily prayer, journal writing, service to others. It leaves out things like music and communion with nature, so like I said, not complete, but it’s a start. And I think that it’s a good idea to present young people with a lot of options for getting in touch with the Spirit. I wish it was presented as a guideline, and not a rule.
Let the checklist be a starting point, not an ending one. There are plenty of stories in talks and Church magazines about how suddenly paying tithing or scripture reading brought a person peace and direction. Perhaps, there’s something to those stories and if you’re struggling, try the list. But I will say, that if you’ve given something a try but found it didn’t work, don’t beat yourself up about it. Go to the next item on the list, or find something else.
I recently gave a testimony in May about how I decided to stop reading my scriptures every day and how it’s been wonderful for me. Scripture reading was a chore, it isn’t my spiritual language, and there’s no shame or anything wrong with that. It may be that some day I’ll find it helpful again, but right now it’s not on my list. I love that my ward took my testimony in stride (especially considering the next RS and Priesthood lesson was on scripture study!) and I received great compliments afterwards, a card in the mail thanking me, and even two months later, last Sunday, an older man in my ward came up and said what a great testimony it was. That experience has given me power and strength to choose better how I interact with God so that it’s uplifting for me, instead of burdensome.
In place of scripture reading, I’ve found that I have much more of an aural spiritual language. I listen to somewhere near 50 knitting podcasts (bet you didn’t know even one existed!). Beyond knitting inspiration, hearing about these podcaster’s lives and families gives me new ideas for my own self and family. When I listen, I find my mind filled with ideas and thoughts come to me quickly, even non-knitting related. Oh, that woman in my ward… Oh, that would be an interesting professional direction to take and look into… Oh, that sounds like a good thing to try to improve that relationship…
Re-examining the checklist as a list of possible spiritual languages from which to experiment on has been so beneficial to me. Don’t give up on the checklist; it can be used for good and not guilt. It has made my spiritual life a journey instead of a chore. What will I find next to uplift me? Who knows? The list is long and life is full of surprises.