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The Burden of Worry

This post is the seventeenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

None of us are perfect, and neither was my father.

Lewis Marler would have been the first person to tell you so.

If he was reading this blog he would say to me, “Malcolm, you’re making me sound too good.  I made lots of mistakes.  People are going to think too highly of me.”

There are not many of us who would worry about being thought of “too highly.”  But my father did.

In fact, he worried about a lot about of things.

He worried about what others thought of him. He worried if he had disappointed persons.  If he made a promise and for some reason couldn’t fulfill it, he would worry himself sick over it.

If he bought a new car, he worried that people in the church would think they were paying the pastor too much.  He turned down salary raises many years.

He worried about what he said to others, and would ruminate over it trying to determine if it was the absolute truth, and if it was a kind thing to say.

“I hope Richard Francis didn’t think I was criticizing that other pastor too much.  I shouldn’t have said what I did,” I remember him telling me one day.  Of course, when he eventually called Richard and apologized for it, his friend would laugh it off and say, “Lewis, I don’t even remember you saying anything about him.”  But my father remembered.

At times, his worry meter was on steroids.

He worried about whether or not he had told the absolute truth and nothing but the truth to a friend, colleague or parishoner.  Thank God he was never asked to testify in court.  That would have been torture for him trying to make sure every word was exactly the truth.

One April he called his tax accountant, Harry, and told him that he wasn’t sure if he had reported an honorarium for one wedding (maybe $50) on his taxes as miscellaneous income.  “Do we need to add that to my income line?” he asked.

Harry, who was more used to people calling him to see if they could get a deduction for some questionable circumstance, finally had to be clear and direct with my Dad.  “Lewis, I do not want you to call me one more time about a $25 or $50 gift you might have received,” Harry chided.  “I’ve got too many other things on my plate right now.”  Harry wasn’t used to such honesty from his clients.

In essence, my father struggled with the human condition more than many.  No one is perfect, though he wanted and strived to be.  He wanted always to do the right thing, and always wanted to say the right thing.

He gave grace or forgiveness to everyone else but parceled it to himself crumb by crumb.  Although on some occasions, he could see how ludicrous his efforts were and could laugh at himself.

I do not know where he inherited this “worry gene.” My hunch is his mother taught him to be an expert worrier.  After all, she had seven children to feed and a husband who didn’t make much money.  The Great Depression started around 1929 when my dad was 8 and lasted until through his college years.  Worry was in the air he and others breathed.

Some lessons are taught by our parents in reverse fashion.  Instead of us wanting to do something like they did, we grow up saying we want to do or be the opposite.

The reverse lesson in this story is, “Don’t worry so much.  Give yourself some grace and forgiveness.  Be gentle with yourself.  Nobody is perfect.”

We have a saying in the South for my father that fits nicely here, “Bless his heart.”  He tried hard to practice what he preached.  But we all have clay feet.

And by the way, I hope you don’t think I’m being too critical of my father in this post.  I worry about that.

My father taught me so.

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