The Truly Helpful Prayer

I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Him Who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do,
because He Who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal. (T‑4.XI.8:2‑6)

This prayer from Chapter 4 in the Text is one of the better-known passages in the Course, and for good reason—it is truly lovely. In the Course’s early years it was especially popular. If memory serves me, I even recall hearing Jerry Jampolsky recite it on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power.”

It is only in the last few years, however, that I myself have started to use this prayer (though it is not directly addressed to God, the Course often calls such practices “prayers”). In that time I have been trying to make use of practices from the Text like this one. There are many places in the Text—over two dozen, by my count—in which Jesus tells us to repeat certain lines, which are then indented and italicized. It eventually occurred to me that when he said to repeat these, he may have actually meant it. So I finally put all of them together in a notebook so that I could memorize and use them. I would highly recommend this to anyone, as these practices can be extremely effective.

The above prayer is one of these practices, and a priceless one it is. To fully appreciate it, we need to understand it within its original context. To facilitate this, I will be quoting from the guidance that led up to it, which is found in the section “Being Truly Helpful” (T-4.XI). I will also occasionally quote from the original dictation for that section, which in places is more personally directed at Bill.

In January, 1966, Bill was asked by the medical center that he and Helen worked for to attend a conference on rehabilitation in Princeton, New Jersey. Jesus apparently felt that Bill’s attendance was important, as he dictated through Helen roughly two pages of material about this, at the end of which was this prayer. The prayer, then, was specifically for Bill’s use at this conference. It was introduced with these words:

Bill, you can do much on behalf of your own rehabilitation and Helen’s, and much more universally as well [meaning, for everyone’s rehabilitation], if you think of the Princeton meetings in this way…. (original version of T-4.XI.8:1)

With this introduction, let us now explore the prayer line-by-line.

“I am here only to be truly helpful.”

What does it mean to be truly helpful? This question is highly pertinent, for we have all experienced “help” that, to put it mildly, wasn’t all that helpful. Let us, therefore, begin by identifying what is not truly helpful, for perhaps that can clarify what is. This, in fact, is the focus of much of Jesus’ guidance to Bill about the rehabilitation conference. He makes several comments about rehabilitation as a movement, explaining why, though “an improvement over overt neglect” (T‑4.XI.4:1), it is not truly helpful.

Properly speaking, every mind which is split needs rehabilitation. The medical orientation emphasizes the body, and the vocational orientation stresses the ego. The team approach generally leads more to confusion than anything else, because it is too often misused as an expedient [a means] for sharing the ego’s dominion with other egos, rather than as a real experiment in cooperation of minds. (T‑4.XI.2:1‑3)

In other words, rehabilitation, “properly speaking,” refers to the healing of the split mind. Rehabilitation as currently practice, however, does not aim at this. The medical orientation tries to heal the body and its brain. The vocational orientation tries to heal the ego, to make it more capable within and adapted to its world. The team approach—in which specialists from different disciplines work as a team on rehabilitating patients—ends up being an exercise in egos sharing (or attempting to share) their “dominion with other egos.” A great deal could be said about this latter point. In this context, however, I will merely say that if you have ever served on any kind of committee, you can understand what he is talking about here.

None of these approaches, then, aim at healing the split mind, and thus none is truly helpful. Later in the message he gets to the heart of what is amiss with the current approach to rehabilitation:

The real limitations on clinical psychology as it is evaluated by its followers at present are not reflected by the attitudes of psychiatrists or medical boards or hospital administrators, even though most of them are sadly in need of rehabilitation themselves. The real handicaps of the clinicians lie in their attitudes to those whom their egos perceive as weakened and damaged. (T-4.XI.7:3-4)

I find this passage a little hard to understand. What I think it means is this: The problem with clinical psychology as currently practiced is not in the overall attitudes of its practitioners, especially not in the attitudes displayed on the level of medical boards and hospital administrators, on the macro-level of governance of the medical profession. The real problem is on the micro-level, in the attitudes of clinicians toward their patients, in their perception that their patients are weakened and damaged. Jesus commented on this perception a bit earlier:

Those with broken bodies are often looked down on by the ego, because of its belief that nothing but a perfect body is worthy as its own temple. A mind that recoils from a hurt body is in great need of rehabilitation itself. A damaged brain is also hardly a danger. All symptoms of hurt need true helpfulness, and whenever they are met with this, the mind that so meets them heals itself. (T-4.XI.6:1-4)

According to this paragraph, we tend to look down upon those with broken bodies or damaged brains because our ego regards a broken body or damaged brain as an unworthy home for itself. Identifying with our ego, we think to ourselves, “I am too good to dwell in such a shabby home.”

We can gather, then, that failing to be truly helpful stems from identifying others with their damaged bodies, malfunctioning brains and dysfunctional egos, and looking down upon them as a result. It is a matter of how we perceive, not of what we do. Logically speaking, being truly helpful must simply be the reverse of this. It must be seeing the perfection in others despite the condition of their bodies, brains or egos. And this is more or less what Jesus tells Bill:

Rehabilitation is an attitude of praising God as He Himself knows praise. He offers praise to you, and you must offer it to others. (T‑XI.7:1‑2)

In other words, rehabilitation is an attitude of praising others as God praises us. And since His praise of us is boundless, rehabilitation is the perception of another as worthy of God’s infinite praise. This, says the Course, is precisely how we offer praise to God. “[Miracles] praise God by honoring His creations, affirming their perfection” (T‑1.30.2:1).

Having discussed the phrase “truly helpful,” let us move on to the word “only,” which Jesus emphasized. This, of course, means that I am not here for anything else. I am not here to get my needs met. I am not here to sound witty. I am not here to have my hair admired. I am not here to eat. I am not here to be helpful in my way—since my way assumes that those who need my help are weakened and damaged.

Given this, saying “I am here only to be truly helpful,” has a powerful unifying and clarifying effect on our mind. Unifying, because it clears away all the agendas that generally jostle for our attention. It relieves us of our frantic juggling act of trying to satisfy them all. We are here for only one thing. This can be a tremendous relief, for we have been juggling too many balls for far too long. Clarifying, because we generally are confused about exactly why we are in a situation. We sense we have some purpose, but its exact nature eludes us. We make up purposes and try to pursue them with all our might, but we are secretly unconvinced we have settled on the right ones. Then we hear “I am here only to be truly helpful,” and something in our mind responds. It stirs in us a memory of a function forgotten. “That’s right,” our mind responds, “that’s why I am here. How could I have forgotten that?”

“I am here to represent Him Who sent me.”

For Bill, “I am here” meant “I am here at this conference.” For us, therefore, it means, “I am here in this particular situation.” Of course, it can be applied more broadly: “I am here in the world.” The Course, however, likes us to apply these ideas specifically, claiming that we thereby get more value and impact out of them.

Sent.” This word implies that I have not blundered into this situation by chance. Nor have I been dragged here by mere human obligation or duty. I have been sent here on a divine assignment. This is exactly what Jesus in the original notes says of Bill’s presence at the conference, “I arranged for Bill to attend the rehabilitation meetings for very good reasons” (see footnote 104 in the CE). If you thought that Jesus personally “arranged” for you to be somewhere “for very good reasons,” would that change your attitude about being there?

Him.” Though we can read this “Him” as referring to God or the Holy Spirit, it originally referred to Jesus. Its original form read, “I am here to represent Christ, who sent me.” “Christ” here meant “Jesus.” Though these terms are quite distinct later in the Course, this was still early in the dictation. Jesus not only says he is the one who sent Bill (as we saw in the previous paragraph), he also makes it clear in the original notes that he is the one Bill is to represent: “He will help you [Helen] more truly by going, if he can remember all the time he is there that his only reason for being there is to represent Me.

If you truly believed that Jesus had arranged for you to be in some situation, and had sent you there to represent him, and that this was the only reason you were there, what effect would that have on your mind? I find this line has two main effects on me. First, it fills me with a sense of higher purpose. To adapt a saying from the book of Proverbs: Without purpose, the people perish. The mind inherently needs a sense of purpose. If I believe I am in a situation for no purpose whatsoever, my experience there will tend to feel empty and depressing, a waste of time. If, on the other hand, I believe I am there for the noblest, most sublime purpose possible, my experience there will be saturated with meaning and significance.

Second, being somewhere to represent someone else takes a great deal of pressure off my shoulders. If my presence there isn’t received well, I need not take it personally. I’m just representing someone else. It was his idea for me to be there, not mine. I don’t have to worry about how others feel about my views and opinions. They aren’t my views. I am just representing someone else. Contrast this with going somewhere to represent ourselves. Trying to show our ego in its most favorable light puts a tremendous pressure on us.

Yet what if I feel that representing Jesus is a huge burden? What if I am worried about how well I will do at that? Then I have subtly slid into representing myself. How well I do at representing him has become the very manner in which I represent myself. It becomes the means by which I present myself as worthy and valid. Thus, if I stick only with representing him and not myself, what burden can I feel?

“I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because He Who sent me will direct me.”

This line takes the burden away even further. Isn’t trying to figure out what to say and do a never-ending source of worry? This line’s promise, therefore, should be a tremendous relief. He Who sent me will tell me what to say and do. Jesus gives Bill further promises: “I will direct you to wherever you can be truly helpful, and to whoever can follow my guidance through you” (T‑4.XI.1:2).

Oddly enough, we usually turn this line upside-down: “Because He Who sent me will direct about what to say and do, I need to worry about whether I will get His guidance right.” As much as all of us, myself included, fall prey to this, it is clearly backwards. His direction is supposed to take away our worry.

How can we let go of this worry? The Course points out that fear is a sign of relying upon ourselves: “The presence of fear is a sure sign that you are trusting in your own strength” (W‑48.3:1). Thus, if you are afraid about your ability or your readiness to rely upon Jesus, you are really relying on yourself, on your readiness, not on him. The Text provides an excellent solution: “The healer…is perfectly safe as long as he is completely unconcerned about his readiness, but maintains a consistent trust in mine” (T‑2.VIII.2:1‑2). In light of this, whenever we fear that we may not hear and follow the Holy Spirit just right, we can simply focus on “present trust in Him” (W‑135.20:1), rather than future mistrust of ourselves.

“I am content to be wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me.”

In his account of this story in Absence from Felicity, Ken Wapnick says, “[Bill] did not wish to go, but felt that he was supposed to” (p. 299). How often do we feel that way? I have frequently reflected on a line that Steve Martin delivers in the movie Parenting. When his wife says she would rather not go out and get a job just because she has to, he says, “My whole life is ‘have to.’” Let’s face it, we have a serious aversion to “have to.” We want the right to choose where we go, much like the right to order off a menu in a restaurant. We want to be in the place that suits our palate just right, whose special features delight our special array of personal tastes. Thus, when we are told we have to go—whether by an inner sense from God or by some outer requirement—somewhere inside we grit our teeth and say, “I may have to go, but I don’t have to like it.”

This line provides a completely different perspective. Rather than only enjoying special places of our choosing, we are perfectly content to be “wherever He wishes.” It doesn’t really matter where we are. All that matters is where He wishes us to be. Why? Because we know that He goes there with us. Our enjoyment comes not from the setting, but from the company. Most of us have probably experienced moments where the company was so wonderful that the setting faded away and became inconsequential.

This line, then, is especially helpful for “assignments” that do not suit our personal tastes. If we genuinely sensed that God or Jesus was there with us, would we really care where we were?

“I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal.”

“To heal,” of course, means “to heal others.” Saying, “I am here to heal others” is the same as saying, “I am here only to be truly helpful.” Both mean, “I am here to rehabilitate sick, ruptured, split minds.” We already know this is true from the first line. This final line, however, adds an essential element: Extending healing to others is what heals me. Rehabilitating other split minds is how I find healing for the split within myself. This, of course, is one of the central principles of the Course. Jesus comments to Helen on this principle in regard to Bill attending the conference:

The reason why Bill needs this experience is because he needs rehabilitation himself. How often have I answered “Help him” when you have asked me to help you? He, too, has asked for help, and he has been helped whenever he was truly helpful to you. He has also gained to whatever extent he could give. (original version of T‑4.XI.3:1‑4)

I love that line, “How often have I answered ‘help him’ when you asked me to help you?” The implication is unmistakable: When you need help, help someone else. Imagine how different our world would be if masses of people started following this simple advice. This also gives us a clue as to why Bill is being sent to this conference. He is being sent to bring rehabilitation to a setting that needs rehabilitation, because he himself needs rehabilitation. And the only way he will find it is to give it.

Notice, however, that it does not say, “I will be healed as I heal.” It says, “as I let Him teach me to heal.” This implies that I don’t really know how to heal, how to be truly helpful, how to bring rehabilitation. I need to be taught. This is precisely what Jesus tells Bill in explaining to him “why you were chosen to go”:

You have a fear of broken bodies, because your ego cannot tolerate them. Your ego cannot tolerate ego weakness either without ambivalence, because it is afraid of its own weakness and the weakness of its chosen home [the body].

That is really why you recoil from the demands of the dependent and from the sight of a broken body. Your ego is threatened, and blocks your natural impulse to help, placing you under the strain of divided will. You withdraw to allow your ego to recover, and to regain enough strength to be helpful again on a basis limited enough not to threaten your ego, but also too limited to give you joy. (T‑4.XI.4:4‑5:3)

Bill, in other words, had the same attitudes as the clinicians that Jesus discussed. He had the same problem as the rehabilitation movement. Let’s look closer at Bill’s problem. According to Jesus, Bill was afraid of two classes of people: those with weak, dependent egos and those with broken bodies. He feared them because he was afraid of the weakness of his own ego and his own body. Quite simply, these patients reminded him of that which he feared in himself.

This aroused fear in him, making him want to recoil. Fearfully recoiling, however, went directly against his natural impulse to love and extend. This put him, therefore, in a state of inner conflict; it placed him “under the strain of divided will.” His solution was to accommodate both sides of the split: to withdraw and let his ego recover, and then to come back and help a little—but too little to derive help from it himself.

The implication was that he was going to the rehabilitation conference to overcome his “ego’s need to avoid and withdraw” (T‑4.XI.7:6) from patients. He was going in order to heal the split between withdrawal and extension in himself. And, if you recall, the healing of our inner split was the definition of rehabilitation. The implication of Jesus’ guidance, however, is that this healing would not be promoted by the actual meetings at the conference. This is because the rehabilitation movement, according to Jesus, “is often little more than a painful attempt on the part of the halt to lead the blind” (T‑4.XI.4:1). Jesus then goes on to say:

Bill, you will see this at every meeting. But this is not why you were chosen to go. You have a fear of broken bodies…. (original version of T‑4.XI.4:2‑4)

In other words, what was discussed or presented at the conference would not be able to teach Bill how to heal. At every meeting he would see that the rehabilitation movement was the lame trying to lead the blind. In every meeting he would see his own problem in true helpfulness manifested in different forms on a large scale. However, he was not chosen to go to see how messed up the rehabilitation movement was. He was chosen to go to face his own fears. If he could actually relinquish these fears, if he could cease judging patients as weakened and damaged, then he would become a true representative of Jesus at the conference. He would stand for a higher approach to rehabilitation. And this is how he could fulfill his mandate of being there “only to be truly helpful.”

The overall situation, then, was this: Bill needed help. He needed rehabilitation. He would only receive this, however, to the extent that he gave it to others. Yet he would only truly give it to others if he could heal his blocks around giving. Jesus, therefore, sent him into a situation which would confront him with those blocks. He sent Bill into his own personal lion’s den, bringing him face-to-face with his fears. No wonder Bill was not excited about going to the conference. Yet if he could fulfill his assignment and let go of his fears, he would truly be Jesus’ representative at the conference. He would be a bright light in a gloomy context.

This gives us a great deal of insight into our own assignments from the Holy Spirit, and why we often experience them as unpleasant. We are sent into a situation to give help. But that same situation may also be meant to confront us with our blocks to being truly helpful. For only by facing and releasing those blocks will we be able to give true helpfulness, and thus receive it for ourselves.

The message of this prayer applies to all situations. The Course tells us that we have been sent into each one for a higher purpose. “You cannot but be in the right place at the right time. Such is the strength of God” (W‑42.2:5‑6). “All events past, present, and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good” (W‑135.19:1). Yet, even though we have been sent for a purpose, we may (and usually do) find all kinds of burdens that get in the way of experiencing and fulfilling that purpose. We may forget that we are there to be truly helpful as we frantically try to juggle the satisfying of our diverse personal desires. We may forget we are there to represent Jesus and instead take on the burden of representing ourselves, trying to place our own ego in the best light possible. We may be plagued by worries about what to say and do. We may simply not want to be there, as the situation does not match our idea of a good time. And we may be confronted with some of our worst fears, not realizing that Jesus is giving us a golden opportunity to relinquish those fears so that he can teach us how to heal.

These burdens come because our purposes grate against those for which Jesus sent us. Yet we can consciously choose to lay ours down and share his goals for us. That is why in the original notes Jesus told Bill his “very good reasons” for sending Bill to the conference: “I want him to know [these reasons] so we can share our goal there.” And that is why he gave Bill this prayer. He clearly designed it to heal the various kinds of turbulence we experience when our purposes conflict with his. Thus, if we want to be at one with Jesus’ purpose for sending us into situations, we can do a very simple thing: We can use this prayer.
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