I keep a checklist of the things I want to accomplish every day. Once I perform a task I check it off my list. The idea of the checklist is to motivate me to perform each task on a daily basis and it worked well in the beginning. One of the items on the list used to be “prayer / meditation.” I put this on the list to remind me to exercise my “spiritual muscle” on a daily basis. In the beginning this worked well as a reminder.
Eventually, however, this stopped working. It stopped working not because I refused to exercise my spiritual muscle. It stopped working because this item became another item on the checklist. The fact that I had this on the list negated some of the power of my spiritual practice. I found myself approaching this item motivated to check it off the list; to have it accomplished. I found that my spiritual practice does not work this way.
I firmly believe it is the nature of spiritualism whether in the form of prayer or meditation that it must be performed whole heartedly. Return to me with all your heart. (Joel 2:12). If not, then I am only going through the motions and any spirituality drains out of it. This is true because spiritualism by its nature deals with the nature of my heart, with truth and not surface level appearances. Render your heart not your garments. (Joel 2:13). To the extent I can keep a spiritual practice on the check list and maintain a wholehearted expression towards the task the checklist serves its purpose. But the point at which spirituality becomes a task to compete is the point when it needs to be removed from the checklist. In other words, if I am not approaching spirituality with my whole heart then I am not being spiritual. Whatever I am doing has become an empty gesture (in terms of spirituality). In the same respect, religious ritualism serves to remind of truth. To the extent ritual stops reminding me of truth because I am not approaching it with my whole heart then it becomes empty and is not serving its purpose. In a sense I am checking something from the list that I have not yet completed if I do not pray or meditate whole heart.
The spirit is truth. Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar render unto God the things that belong to him. (Matt 22:21). Checklists are for items I want to accomplish because I want them accomplished and not because I want to experience the performance of the item. Certain things can be put on the check list because they do not require whole hearts to perform. These things belong to Caesar. That is, the physical world. For spiritual things, prayer, meditation, being grateful, these things belong to God and must be performed whole heartedly. These things belong to God (if you like).
So I removed this item from my checklist and I found that I still perform the task. But now the quality of my performance is different. The checklist served me well to begin the practice. But to maintain my spiritual practice I had to eventually take it off my checklist.