I recently had the privilege of talking faith and belief and practice with a dear friend. We were discussing the challenges of getting small children ready to go to church on Sunday morning, and how “back in the day” I managed to get four kids under the age of 7 to the 8:30 a.m. service every week (mostly on time), and then participated in, or led, church activities on Monday evening, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, Thursday night, and Friday night… with an occasional Saturday night “men’s prayer” for my husband.
“Why did we do that to ourselves?” I asked.
“Because we were zealots,” my friend answered.
Yes. Yes, we were.
As a family, we burned (literally) our VHS copy of “The Little Mermaid” because Ariel was rebellious and disobedient to her father, among the other G-rated movies we trashed because they included magic and other ungodly activities we couldn’t condone.
We went to church NO MATTER WHAT. We went to church with the stomach flu, we went to church in labor, we left family gatherings held at our own home to go to church. It was one of the things we believed would ensure our spiritual safety and propel us into spiritual success. We judged people for staying home, or going on a vacation that kept them away on Sunday morning. We were critical and fault-finding of others and even harsher with ourselves and our loved ones. Eventually we became angry and bitter and burned-out, as did many of our fellow zealots.
So what IS a zealot? It’s defined as a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.
Have you ever met a happy zealot? I haven’t. It’s hard to be happy when you’re busy being fanatical and uncompromising.
You know how in a classroom there’s always that “one kid” who takes everything too seriously? That’s the zealot, regardless of age or creed. Sometimes they accomplish wonderful things, and sometimes they’re just crazy. And annoying. Occasionally they are downright dangerous. It’s probably a mental/emotional disorder, like having an addictive personality, or being OCD.
Many modern-day zealots are emotionally destroyed when their politician of choice falters, or their church is caught in scandal, or science disproves the efficacy of their latest fad diet. Many more zealots just jump from one cause to the next, often without taking time to acquire any knowledge, eventually wearing themselves out, and straining the patience of friends and family. Others, finally burned out and exhausted by the pressure, just step off the merry-go-round one day and start over, digging deep to find the truth under all the propaganda, the purpose behind the pursuit.
For myself, zealot recovery has meant taking all the “must” and “should” and “have to” statements out of my head and replacing them with a kinder, gentler (less militant) perspective. A perspective that is actually open to new and different ideas, ways of being and thinking and living. One that offers grace and mercy instead of judgment and scare tactics and emotional manipulation. A perspective that’s a little less like the Pharisees and a lot more, I hope, like Jesus.