[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
13.5. Extension will become our only function. The Holy Spirit will give us a special form of this called our special function.
Extending forgiveness is so singularly important that, from the Course’s standpoint, it is the only thing worth doing. “Each day should be devoted to miracles.” (T-1.I.15:1) This, says the Course, is our true function on earth. Every single one of us has this noble calling, a calling which goes by many names in the Course. We are here to be a miracle worker, a teacher of God, a minister of God, a healer, the light of the world, a messenger of God, a savior of the world.
We sorely need such a function. It is a basic psychological need to make a contribution, to take our place in the grand scheme, to fulfill a meaningful role within a larger whole: “The lonely ones are those who see no function in the world for them to fill; no place where they are needed, and no aim which only they can perfectly fulfill.” (T-25.VI.3:6) Propelled by this need, we all seek endlessly for our special gift which will grant us our special niche in life—as a homemaker, businessperson, parent, lover, artist, writer, or whatever. However, most of the content behind this search is ego-glorification. We want to stand at the top of the world and have all eyes look up and see how special we are.
We might assume that the Holy Spirit would steer clear of such a base need, especially considering the nature of specialness. For specialness is not only an attack on others, it was the idea that shattered Heaven and started this whole mess in the first place. In light of this, we may assume that He would ask us to renounce having any place in the world and instead live as spiritual hermits. Yet (as we saw in key idea 9.4) He can use everything we made, even our desire for a special place in the world. He takes this idea, purifies it, and transforms it into a blessing. It becomes what the Course calls our special function:
Such is the Holy Spirit’s kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm. To each He gives a special function in salvation he alone can fill; a part for only him. (T-25.VI.4:1-2)
He takes our base metal and transforms it into pure gold. Under His alchemy, our plan to find a special place in the world’s status quo becomes something else altogether. It becomes our special place in His plan to overturn the status quo and redeem the world. It is still a part that we alone can fill. Yet rather than being a way to exalt our ego and denigrate others, it becomes our way to erase our ego through awakening others. Here we can see the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s ability to use what we have made. In transforming our desire for a special place, He has answered an even deeper longing than the need to be special. He has answered the fundamental yearning to extend, to love.
The term “special function” implies that this function has been specially tailored to our individual situation, and the Course backs this up. “The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself.” (T-25.VII.7:3) We can see this tailoring as having at least three aspects:
- A special way of extending. The Holy Spirit fashions for us our own unique form of extending. He does this based on an infallible awareness of our individual strengths. “Seeing your strengths exactly as they are, and equally aware of where they can be best applied, for what, to whom and when, He chooses and accepts your part for you.” (W-pI.154.2:2) This “part” can be almost anything. The Course mentions psychotherapists, theologians, 1 spiritual teachers, and spiritual healers. One’s function, however, may take any one of hundreds of forms, many of which may appear quite ordinary and not at all like a “spiritual” purpose. We may be called to be a healer disguised as a secretary, or a therapist disguised as a bartender. Only the Holy Spirit knows what our real strengths are and “where they can be best applied, for what, to whom and when.”
- Particular people to extend to. The Holy Spirit also knows who exactly can benefit from our particular form of extension. He assigns these people to us: “Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God’s teachers.” (M-2.1:1) He will send them to us, making sure we meet them: “Those who are to meet will meet.” (M-3.1:7) He even sends them with a plan for what is meant to pass between us: “Not one is sent without a learning goal already set, and one which can be learned that very day.” (M-16.1:7)
- All the external specifics. According to the Course, the Holy Spirit will provide all things related to our function. He will give us the words to say, (M-21.4:5) guide our decisions, (T-14.III.9-19) provide for our physical needs, (T-13.VII.10-13) even supply the money we need. (P-3.III.1,4-6) In a moving passage, loved among Course students, we are assured that He will take care of literally everything:
- He will go before you making straight your path, and leaving in your way no stones to trip on, and no obstacles to bar your way. Nothing you need will be denied you. Not one seeming difficulty but will melt away before you reach it. You need take thought for nothing, careless of everything except the only purpose that you would fulfill. (T-20.IV.8:5-8)
These promises sound so wonderful, we naturally begin to wonder how we can lay hold of them. Who would not want this special function the Course talks about? And so a very common reaction is to begin asking ourselves (and God) all kinds of questions: What is my particular function? Will I be famous? Should I get credentialed? Should I hang up my shingle, or look for a publisher? These questions can consume us, and go unanswered, for literally years, until a new set of questions starts to arise: Why isn’t it happening? Is God not holding up His end? Where did I go wrong? Am I perhaps just plain unworthy?
Questions about the specific shape of our function are legitimate. They will need to get dealt with at some point along the way. On the other hand, some of the questions we ask (such as, “Is God holding up His end?”) never need to be asked. Yet even legitimate questions can get in the way if we become consumed with them and use them to neglect the real business of growing up inwardly in preparation for our function. The following passage seems almost written for this situation:
Your questions have no answer, being made to still God’s Voice, Which asks of everyone one question only: “Are you ready yet to help Me save the world?” (C-2.9:1)
The real question is, “Am I ready yet?” And what will make you ready for your function is not being preoccupied with the form of it, but doing the inner work that provides the content of it. Once you have done a great deal of that inner work, it becomes much more appropriate to ask questions about the form of your special function. At that point, the answers will not seem frustratingly elusive; they may well come tumbling out of the sky. For once you accept the content of our function, the form of it will be provided. This is exactly what we are told in the line that precedes the above-quoted passage about Him making straight our path: “Once you accept His plan as the one function that you would fulfill, there will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for you without your effort” (italics mine). (T-20.IV.8:4)
Without this new content, even if you did find your special function and began to do it, it would not be the glorious ministry you anticipated. Since you would still carry the old thought system, giving would feel like a burdensome sacrifice. You would have “a tendency to assume that you are being called on constantly to make sacrifices of yourself for those who come.” (P-3.I.1:7) You would also find various reasons to disapprove of the people you are serving. After a while, the sacrifices would accumulate, slowly adding up to an overall feeling of burnout, and you would start contemplating an escape from the very thing you thought would make you happy.
What you really want, then, is not the outer form of your function. What you want is the inner content, and this means seeing people differently. You want to see them as the divine dreamer, not as the weak and damaged dream figure that stands before you. You want to truly feel that you can scarce refrain from kneeling at their feet. In this perception, you will not need to worry about giving out so much that your own needs become jeopardized. For giving this perception is what will truly fill your needs. Pouring out this forgiveness will be how you take care of yourself. For this is how you will discover your true Self.
And this is how you will be able to truly serve the world. We all ache to see the world’s chronic problems solved. We all see suffering in the lives around us right now that we would dearly love to alleviate. We all want to make a difference. The question is, how can we best do that?
The world is filled to the brim with attempts to save it. You might even say that everybody is trying to improve the world in their own small way. Yet most attempts to save the world fall at least in part under a single heading: “Stop the attackers.” Stop the murderers, the dirty politicians, the polluters, the pornographers, the dictators, the drug peddlers—the list is endless. If we, the righteous, can just identify the evil ones and bring them to justice, then all will be right with the world.
Yet there is something suspicious about this approach to saving the world. Under the guise of being helpful, we are repeatedly stamping the label of sinner onto our fellows. Because we are the good guys and they are the bad guys, we can blame and attack with impunity. Like James Bond, we have a license to kill. Thus, the very syringe that we claim holds the antidote actually contains the disease. We, the saviors, have become a new set of attackers. And who will stop us?
Forgiveness is a radical alternative to the traditional method of saving the world. Rather than “Stop the attackers,” its message is “Forgive the attackers.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we allow them to keep doing what they are doing—although we may. It just means that while our body does what it does (which may include stopping someone from hurting another), our mind is doing the real work. It is perceiving the “attacker” as a holy Son of God. Instead of an evil criminal, we see a brother giving us a cherished opportunity to help. Instead of recoiling in horror from a devil, we can scarce refrain from kneeling at the feet of Christ Himself. This perception is the real agent of change. Imagine masses of people carrying out this program of global reform. Do you think it might yield better results than the traditional method? Could it perhaps actually save the world?
If we wonder how much good forgiveness could really do in the world, we need only turn to the gospels of the New Testament. In those pages we see what happens when a person who can truly forgive comes into contact with the hurting inhabitants of this world. According to both the Bible and the Course, forgiveness is what allowed to Jesus work his miracles.
Jesus of Nazareth, then, is the demonstration of what a single forgiving mind can do. In one instant it can succeed where all the world’s doctors, therapists, social workers, and correctional institutions have failed. In that one instant, decades of guilt can fall away from a tortured mind. And as they do, the demons depart, sanity is restored, bones are mended, even the dead arise. Life-long torment is replaced by the golden peace of God. An instant of this forgiveness was able to transform a life. A few short years of this forgiveness changed the world forever.
Forgiveness, then, is not an impotent gesture, the luxury of those who do not really care about solving the problems of this world. Based on the example of Jesus, we might well conclude that forgiveness is the most life-transforming and world-changing power on the face of this earth.
To extend this forgiveness is our calling, says A Course in Miracles. This is how we carry on the tradition of Jesus. This is how we fulfill his injunction to be the light of the world. The Course, in fact, once asks us to repeat all day long the following thought: “Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world.” (W-pI.62) In order to carry out this new way of saving the world we need much more than sufficient funds and an adequate number of volunteers. We need to acquire the most precious jewel in this world: a forgiving mind. Without that, we will simply be another body performing appropriate behaviors, while sending covert messages of blame to the attackers out there-and thus joining their ranks. At all times, then, we must place before ourselves the single crucial choice of whether to forgive or condemn, just as the Course does in this passage:
“Choose once again if you would take your place among the saviors of the world, or would remain in hell, and hold your brothers there.” (T-31.VIII.1:5)
I would therefore like to close this chapter with another passage from the Course. For maximum impact, I suggest that you read it as if it is addressed personally to you—you might even want to insert your name at different points. When it tells you to look about the world, do so. When it asks you a question, try to answer it. Most of all, when it says “they,” picture “them” as specifically as you can. When it says they are “weary,” you might picture street people. When it says they are “in chains,” you might imagine convicts in prison. When it says they “suffer pain” you might see patients in hospitals, etc.
Look about the world, and see the suffering there. Is not your heart willing to bring your weary brothers rest?
They must await your own release. They stay in chains till you are free. They cannot see the mercy of the world until you find it in yourself. They suffer pain until you have denied its hold on you. They die till you accept your own eternal life. You are the holy Son of God Himself. Remember this, and all the world is free. Remember this, and earth and Heaven are one. (W-pI.191.10:7-11:8)
- Psychotherapist and theologian are mentioned in T-9.V.