Role or Relationship?

Man refusing an offerI had a fight with my uncle today. He’s an older gentleman, living on his own, and I help him out with errands and doctors’appointments. We’ve always had a rocky time together; sometimes his fears get the better of him, and he turns mean. I’m sure that’s even truer today than it was twenty years ago. However, we’d been getting along well recently, and I had begun to think we were forging a real relationship. I know I had begun to care more about his thoughts and feelings, and I hoped he also cared about mine – not just about the service I can provide him. But today, that wasn’t the case.


I have realized anew, with real disappointment, that he is not capable of relationship, only of roles. That’s all right. I can do that. But it’s not God’s best for us. It’s not grace; it’s law. When we have relationship, we have warmth, give-and-take, vulnerability, risk, hurt, forgiveness, growing trust – in short, intimacy. When we have roles, we do what we are called to do. Love becomes action rather than feeling. Forgiveness becomes general rather than specific. We have unspoken agreements about the lines we are not allowed to cross. We don’t go where we are not invited.


My uncle refused to apologize for the hurt he caused me today, and I am going to let that go. It’s part of the ministry role God has given me in his life right now. If we had a relationship, I would pursue that conversation and that apology, but he has let me know that he is more comfortable with roles. It’s a sacrifice for me to reverse course, and I am glad I wanted something more. But if we are going back to roles, then he must assume his; I will not be insulted or demeaned as part of our interactions as long as he still has control of his rational mind, and he did agree not to speak to me that way again. I will now go back to respect and distance and service. And that makes me sad.

  • Is there someone in your life who keeps you in a role rather than a relationship? Have you tried to push past that barrier? If so, what happened?

4 thoughts on “Role or Relationship?

  1. I SO identified with what you wrote here! This has been the case with many in my family; most recently, with my parents. My mother died last March and, up to the very end, I held out the hope that we might engage in simply a REAL conversation…you know, the kind where each person is authentic and open and receptive.(I had surrendered the hope for a relationship a few years back.) It was 3 days before her death when God blessed us with a whole DAY of such conversation! We laughed, we cried, we joked, we sat quietly in her hospice room watching a Gather music video….and then, the next day, she was back in her “role”, and shortly thereafter, she died.
    I struggled with that for a few months. To have had a taste of what it may have been like to have had a relationship with my mother….it seemed like a cruel joke…a tease. But I’ve come to see it now as one of the greatest blessings my Merciful Savior could have given me….closure. I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, she was not able to be open and real with me. She played out the role of ‘mother’ as well as she could…she gave me what she had: and that’s all any of us can do. I grieved. But I also gave thanks…because I had that ONE DAY! It was a gift.
    Now I live with my aging father. Another ‘role player’. I don’t expect another miracle. But, every-once-in-awhile, I catch glimpses of the ‘real man’ underneath the façade….and I treasure them! I don’t think he even knows he’s let his humanity show 🙂

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  3. Yes, I definitely get what your saying about the differences between roles and relationships.
    I think that I have been a “roles” friend, so I am now getting back a” roles” marriage. AND THAT’S NOT AT ALL WHAT I WANTED GROWING UP !!
    SO, I just need to learn my lesson and NEVER be a “role” friend again, and just keep playing the “role” game on marriage.
    Thank you for your very understanding and kind posts,
    Signed, got to try harder !!!

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