The Call for Help

The call for help is one of those profound yet practical and down-to-earth ideas in the Course. I’ve been trying to understand it for many years. Right now I feel just a little bit closer to understanding it and want to share my recent thoughts.

Let’s pick a personal example and apply the following to it. Try to think of a recent situation in which you truly felt attacked by someone and found it difficult to respond in a genuinely loving fashion. We’ll use this example throughout the class, so try to pick a juicy one.

When you are attacked, your attacker seems to be hurting you and somehow gaining something for himself.

When you are attacked, it seems that the other person is actually taking something from you. This something is usually intangible—dignity, status, respect, “the upper hand,” self-esteem. In my booklet, “Seeing the Face of Christ in All Our Brothers,” I included a diagram of two balloons in which one balloon punched the other, causing it to deflate while the attacking balloon simultaneously inflated. That is how we see the situation when we have been attacked. Thinking of your example, please ask yourself the following questions and write your answers down.

In what way did you feel hurt?
What did you feel was taken from you?
What do you think the other person gained?

The one in need seems to be you; you seem to be justified in trying to reverse the situation—in taking back what he stole.

Since you are the one who has been taken from, and unjustly so, you seem to be the one who deserves concern. And it only seems fair that the situation is somehow reversed, that what your attacker took from you is taken from him and restored to you.

In the aftermath of the attack, who did your concern go to—yourself or the other person? Try to quantify this. Imagine a scale in which 0 means that all of your concern was for your attacker, 10 means that all of your concern was for yourself, and the numbers in between signify a mixture of concern. What number would represent your concern in the aftermath of the attack?

What, in your eyes (let’s say your ego’s eyes), would be the most just thing that could happen in this situation to set things right? Let your imagination run wild. To aid in this, imagine that “fate,” not you, carries this justice out.

There are actually two calls your brother is making to you

Now let’s get into the Course’s dissection of your brother’s motivation. It repeatedly describes two levels of motivation, two calls your brother is making to you.

Two calls you make to him, as he to you….Hear the one, and you are separate from him and are lost. But hear the other, and you join with him and in your answer is salvation found. (T-31.II.5:5, 9-10)

The surface call—the attack—is a call to war and a defense against love

The Course calls this surface call by many terms: a “call to war” (T-31.I.10:4), “the ego’s senseless shrieks”(T-25.V.3:5), the call for “disaster and disunity and pain” (T-31.I.11:3), grandiosity (T-13.III.8:1), a “seeming call to death” and a “murderous attack” (T-31.I.10:3). Perhaps the most important way this call is referred to is as a defense against love (T-12.I.10:1-2; T-14.VII.5:6-7). This means that by this attack, this person is actually pushing away love. This is not so hard to see; how could being unloving not distance oneself from love? What may be a bit harder to see is that he is pushing love away intentionally; he is defending against it because he is unconsciously afraid of it.

Can you see that this person’s attack is an act of pushing love away from himself?
Can you envision that, on some level, this pushing away is intentional?

This surface call is not the real call; it actually is a deceptive form that conceals the real call underneath

The Course points out several times that the surface call is a deceptive form that actually conceals the real call, which lies beneath. Notice the word “form” or “forms” in the passages below:

And you will understand it was this call that everyone and everything within the world has always made, but you had not perceived it as it was. And now you see you were mistaken. You had been deceived by forms the call was hidden in. (T-31.I.8)

Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. (T-12.I.3:4)

The only judgment involved is the Holy Spirit’s one division into two categories; one of love, and the other the call for love. You cannot safely make this division, for you are…too bound to form, and not to content. (T-14.X.7)

In all three passages, the message is that we are taken in by the form of the person’s behavior. That form deceives us into thinking that the appearance we see is the truth of the matter, that it is all that is going on. Yet the appearance of our brother’s behavior only conveys the surface call. It hides the deeper call, the real call. We need to acquire ears that hear beneath the surface.

The deeper call is a call for the love that his attack pushes away;
a call for help out of the hole his attack has dug for himself;
a call for correction of his mistake (his attack);
an appeal for the healing of the sickness that his attack represents.

The logic behind this is quite simple. Your brother’s surface call is a defense against love. It pushes away love. Yet love is what he really wants. And so concealed within his attack is the pain of not getting what he wants. This pain is his call for what he truly desires, his call for love. This pain is also his call for help, for it includes within it the dim realization that left to his own devices he will compulsively repeat the act of pushing away what he really wants.

You are merely asked to see forgiveness as the natural reaction to distress that rests on error, and thus calls for help. (T-30.VI.2:7)

This passage says it perfectly. In this sentence, what calls for help? It is “distress,” right? So there is the “error,” the surface call, which causes pain, which is a call for help, help to get out of the pain-producing error.

Hear but his call for mercy and release from all the fearful images he holds of what he is and of what you must be. (T-31.II.9)

On the surface, your brother is very attached to holding an unloving image of you. But you have to listen underneath that, to the deeper call that asks for mercy (forgiveness for holding this unloving image) and for release from the very image he is so attached to.

Nor do you hear his plaintive call, unchanged in content in whatever form the call is made, that you unite with him, and join with him in innocence and peace. And yet, beneath the ego’s senseless shrieks, such is the call that God has given him. (T-25.V.3:4-5)

On the surface, he is pushing you away. But that deprives him of the union he really wants. Your job is to hear beneath that, to hear “his plaintive call…that you unite with him.”

You are deceived if you believe [your brother wants] disaster and disunity and pain. Hear not the call for this….But listen, rather, to the deeper call beyond it that appeals for peace and joy. (T-31.I.11)

People’s behavior sometimes is so destructive that it seems that they want disaster. Our job is to listen to their underlying call “for peace and joy.”

For beneath [the illusions we make], and concealed as long as they are hidden, is the loving mind that thought it made them in anger. And the pain in this mind is so apparent, when it is uncovered, that its need of healing cannot be denied. Not all the tricks and games you offer it can heal it, for here is the real crucifixion of God’s Son….Beneath all the grandiosity you hold so dear is your real call for help. For you call for love to your Father as your Father calls you to Himself. (T-13.III.6:4-6, 8)

As we righteously make our illusions and pursue our goal of grandiosity, we do not suspect that beneath all this is a purely loving mind that is wracked with guilt over what it has done and that yearns to be made whole again.

How wrong are you who fail to hear the call that echoes past each seeming call to death, that sings behind each murderous attack and pleads that love restore the dying world. (T-31.I.10)

Again the Course points out our failure to hear—hear the distress within the attack, the plea within the murderous intent “that love restore the dying world.”

Nothing [in the real world] but calls to you in soft appeal to be your friend, and let it join with you….And you will understand it was this call that everyone and everything within the world has always made, but you had not perceived it as it was. And now you see you were mistaken. You had been deceived by forms the call was hidden in. And so you did not hear it, and had lost a friend who always wanted to be part of you. (T-31.I.8)

This is such a poignant passage. We failed to hear the call that is always echoing around us, in which everyone appeals to be our friend and be allowed to join with us. And so we lost a friend who always wanted to be part of us.

Let us try to hear now. Thinking of your situation:

Can you see that within the attack is distress that rests on error and thus calls for help?
Underneath his merciless attack, can you hear his call for mercy?
Can you hear his call for release from the fearful image he holds of himself as an attacker?
Can you hear, while he pushes you away, his call to join with you in innocence and peace?
Even while he calls for disaster and disunity, can you hear his deeper call for peace and joy?
Can you hear the call that sings behind his murderous attack and pleads that love restore the dying world?
Can you hear, hidden beneath his unfriendly surface call, his soft appeal to be your friend and be allowed to join with you?

Now quiet your mind and ask within: What is my brother’s deeper call in this situation? What is the loving mind beneath his attack pleading for?

See your brother not as sinful but as ill

We need to see this person not as a sinner, but as someone with an illness, a sad compulsion in which he constantly pushes away the very thing he truly wants.

Call it not sin but madness, for such it was and so it still remains. (T-18.I.6:7)

There is but one interpretation of motivation that makes any sense. And because it is the Holy Spirit’s judgment it requires no effort at all on your part. Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. (T-12.I.3:1-4)

The first passage clearly says that this is not sin, it is mental illness. The second passage says that an attack is “an appeal for healing”—clearly implying that the attack is a sickness.

What happens in your mind when you see your brother not as sinful but as ill?

He is the one in need, in need of love

Now we’ve come full circle. It is your brother, not you, who is in need here. He is the one who has lost something and needs help.

Can you imagine that your brother is the one who is in need in this situation? How does it feel when you try to imagine that?

By supplying his need for love, you supply yours

Of course, we still feel in need here—which would have to be true because we have the same sickness he does. But how do we meet this need? By meeting his. The Course returns to this theme again and again:

What gifts are there that you can give to God? My brother, there are many calls to you from those who lost their way and need your help in finding it again. It seems to you that you are helping them if you respond to what they ask and what you think they need. Yet it is always God Who calls to you, and he who asks your help is but yourself. Who is the giver and receiver then? Who asks the gift and who is given it? (The Gifts of God, p. 124)

When our brother calls for help, God is the One Who is really calling, and the help we give is given to ourselves.

Perceive in sickness but another call for love, and offer your brother what he believes he cannot offer himself. Whatever the sickness, there is but one remedy. You will be made whole as you make whole, for to perceive in sickness the appeal for health is to recognize in hatred the call for love. And to give a brother what he really wants is to offer it unto yourself, for your Father wills you to know your brother as yourself. Answer his call for love, and yours is answered. (T-12.II.3:1-5)

Would you maintain that you do not need [help]? Yet this is what you are maintaining when you refuse to recognize a brother’s appeal, for only by answering his appeal [for help] can you be helped. Deny him your help and you will not recognize God’s Answer to you. (T-12.II.5:3-7)

Fear is a symptom of your own deep sense of loss [of love]. If when you perceive [fear] in others you learn to supply the loss [of love], the basic cause of fear is removed. Thereby you teach yourself that fear does not exist in you. The means [love] for removing it is in yourself, and you have demonstrated this by giving it [love]. (T-12.I.9:1-4)

This passage is significant, for it shows why answering our brother’s call answers our own. Our own attacks have distanced us from love; we have experienced a loss of love. How do we restore what we have lost? We supply the loss when we see it in others, and thus we teach ourselves that a supply of love exists in us. How could it not be in us if we have just supplied it? Thus we prove to ourselves that what we thought we lost remains intact.

If you would look upon love, which is the world’s reality, how could you do better than to recognize, in every defense against it, the underlying appeal for it? And how could you better learn of its reality than by answering the appeal for it by giving it? (T-12.I.10:1-2)

Here again we learn of the reality of love, which we thought we had lost, by giving it, by filling the loss in others.

There is one way alone by which we come to where all dreams began. And it is there that we will lay them down, to come away in peace forever. Hear a brother call for help and answer him. It will be God to Whom you answer, for you called on Him. There is no other way to hear His Voice. There is no other way to seek His Son. There is no other way to find your Self. (P-2.V.8:2-8)

Notice how emphatic this last passage is. It repeats three times “there is no other way.” And what is the only way? “Hear a brother call for help and answer him.” This is the only way that we will ever get home.

Now, getting back to your situation, first repeat to yourself the following lines:

He who asks my help is but myself.
I will be made whole as I make whole.
To give my brother [name]what he really wants is to offer it unto myself.
When I answer his call for love, mine is answered.
Only by answering his appeal can I be helped.
There is no other way to find my Self but to hear him call for help and answer him.

Now quiet your mind and ask within: How can I supply his need for love here? How can I answer his deeper call?


Notice how this whole approach completely reverses the ego. When we are attacked, it looks as if we are the one in need, and that we meet our need by punishing our attacker, by taking back what he stole. Yet, instead, he is the one who is truly in need. He is in need of love, having pushed it away from himself, and giving it to him is how our own need is met. This reversal of our notions of self-interest is the precise opposite of what an ego would do. And so this is how we teach ourselves that we are not an ego.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]