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Chucking the Church Checklist

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I love lists. Well, let me clarify. I love to cross things off my list. There is something about writing out everything I need to do and then checking them off one by one. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something when that seemingly endless list of “to do’s” starts to shrink.

I live by lists at work. I live by lists at home. And at times, lists help keep me on track when it comes to living the gospel daily. Say my prayer. Check. Read my scriptures. Check. Go to church. Check.

I had never really thought of checklist living as a potentially bad thing, until a sister in my ward gave me some eye-opening perspective about doing something because it’s on a checklist and doing something because you’re truly converted.

Her family had recently been sealed in the temple. She and her husband had spent most of their marriage out of the Church. In her talk she shared how during those years of inactivity, there were times when they did things just because it was on the “Church checklist.” When she had a baby, she had her blessed. A few years later when she gave birth to twins, she thought, “It’s time to cross baby blessings off that checklist again.” But this time, a bishop intervened. He invited her husband to work toward getting the priesthood so that he could bless their twins himself. He accepted the challenge. She thought, “It’s another thing on that ‘Church checklist.’” Receive the power of the priesthood. Check. Give your babies a name and a blessing. Double check. Bless and pass the sacrament. Check. Check. As they began checking more and more things off the “Church checklist,” she noticed that their lives began to change. They started saying family prayer. They started saying personal prayers. They started to come to church every week. As their habits changed, so did their hearts. They started to want to really live for the blessings of the gospel and not just check things off of a list. It’s why when it came time to prepare to go to the temple they did it wholeheartedly, not because it was something to cross off of a list, but because the blessings of the temple were what they truly desired for their family. They had moved from checklist living to a life of continual conversion.

Her story got me thinking of mine. I was raised in the Church. I’ve always been active. I’ve always tried to do what I’m supposed to do. But why was I doing it? I couldn’t help but think of how guilty I had been of “Church checklist” living.

I came across a quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf that read, “There is more to … Church (and more to life) than simply checking things off an assigned to-do list. … It might be wise to look at … the scriptures not as checklists or detailed scripts but rather as opportunities to prepare our minds and hearts to receive divine inspiration.”

An opportunity. I’ve never thought of scripture study like that. It’s not about getting in that verse or chapter for the day (as good as that is) to say I’ve done it; it’s about me reading for the opportunity to get answers. It’s about me reading for the opportunity to receive inspiration. It’s about me reading for the opportunity to have renewed faith that these are more than just words on a page. They’re God’s words. And if I read with real faith, I can trust that God will speak to my heart and my mind when I read, when I pray, when I go to church, when I pay my tithing.

I love how Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy put it in a general conference talk a few years ago. He talked about the difference between the Church and the gospel.

“Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger,” he said. “It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel.”

Why is that? I believe it has something to do with checklist living versus living in continual conversion. Our participation in the Church is an outward manifestation of our spiritual desires. It’s what we check off on our list. But the gospel is the plan God has for us. It includes the things of eternity, and they’re often difficult to measure. They require questions like, “How much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?”

Elder Hallstrom stressed that we need the gospel and the Church—together. In fact, we become converted to His gospel through the Church. It’s why my friend’s family experienced a change of heart when they started coming back to church. It’s why you and I can have a change of heart, even if we’re already going to church every Sunday. It’s why I find new things to blog about after the Spirit touches me during a lesson or during a talk in sacrament meeting.

If we’re truly becoming who God wants us to be, we recognize that conversion never ends. We’re always dealing with something new. We’re always changing. And so we always need opportunities for that divine inspiration and intervention. The things on our spiritual checklists can never be crossed off because we’ll be working on them our whole lives. Only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ can we truly accomplish anything of eternal significance.

I love checklists. But when it comes to living the gospel, it might be time to chuck that Church checklist of mine. There’s more to life than to-do lists. If we’re living a life of continual conversion, we’re becoming something more. We’re focused on doing what’s right for the right reason. We’re not worried about the do’s and the don’ts. We’re focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ—loving God and loving others.  

“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14).

Change. It’s what we can count on. And in this context, what a blessing it can be.


Irinna Danielson is a Florida native and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in print journalism. She is a wife and mother to four beautiful children and embraces all of the craziness that comes with that.