A Lesson of Role Reversal in the Congo

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Congo Boatmen

Congo Boatmen (Photo credit: International Rivers)

When the Christian missionary, Dr Helen Roseveare, was ill in Congo with cerebral malaria  she was nursed back to life by African-trained paramedics. She found that she had to thank them, “sincerely thank them”, as she puts in Enough “when normally they thanked me for all I did for them.” This reversal of roles was very difficult to accept.

Dr Helen writes that this role reversal was God saying to her: “This is necessary. They need to know that they are needed and that therefore they are fully part of the family.”

The friend I’m troubled by has been an invaluable support to me in the past. It’s been humbling at times. I vowed to this friend, and myself, that I would be there for them when needed.

However, what has happened over recent months is, I feel, a shutting out, a shutting down, on my friend’s part. I have not been allowed to give the support.

You could argue that my friend needs support of a different sort – to be left alone. (“If only they would let me alone!” was Sebastian’s cry in Brideshead Revisited). That’s what I had told myself. But when it keeps happening, when you are basically told you are not allowed to ‘be there’ for someone then you feel not needed – i.e., unnecessary – not part of the cause, not part of the family. That’s probably the crux of my dissatisfaction in this particular case.

You could argue that taking on the role of unwilling recipient reveals an inflated sense of one’s own capabilities or position in the world. Or it may result from low self-esteem. Whatever, it makes the willing giver feel judged, found lacking, excluded and incompetent. I’m not quite sure how you deal with that.

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