How does the Course view relations with people who have disabilities?

Answer: The Course does not deal specifically with how to relate to the disabled, but interestingly enough, one of the Course's most famous passages—the "Being truly helpful" prayer of T-2.V—was originally given in the context of working with those who have "broken bodies" and damaged egos—in other words, the disabled. Looking at this prayer in its original context tells us much about how Jesus would have us relate to the disabled.

As reported in Ken Wapnick's Absence from Felicity (pp. 299-301), Jesus wanted Bill Thetford to go to a conference on the basic principles of rehabilitation held in Princeton, New Jersey. Bill didn't want to go, but Jesus insisted that it was an assignment from him. Jesus then told Bill why he wanted him to go to the conference:

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 (Absence from Felicity, p. 300).

Jesus sent Bill to the rehabilitation conference because Bill feared those with broken bodies and with "ego-weakness" (a reference, I believe, to those who are dependent on others, who cannot take care of themselves). He feared them because they reminded his ego of its own weakness, and the weakness of its "chosen home," the body. As Jesus went on to say, "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" (Absence from Felicity, p. 300). Bill, identifying with his ego, responded to this fear by recoiling from those with broken bodies—avoiding them, withdrawing from them. Isn't this how we so often react to the disabled? This, I think, is one reason that we put the old, the physically disabled, and the mentally ill in institutions—to avoid having to look at them. This fear of the disabled is why Bill didn't want to go to the conference.

This apparently produced a great deal of conflict in Bill's mind—a "divided will." Like all of us, he had a "natural impulse to help"—after all, he was a clinical psychologist, a person who had devoted his life to helping those in need of rehabilitation. He recognized on some level that helping others was the only way he could experience true joy. But this natural impulse to help was blocked by his fear of the very people that it was his function to help. What a dilemma! Bill needed to face this fear and have it undone, so that his natural impulse to help could flow through him unimpeded. As Jesus told him, "A mind that recoils from a hurt body is in great need of rehabilitation itself" (Absence from Felicity, p. 300). And that is why Jesus wanted Bill to go to the conference: for Bill's own rehabilitation.

How would Bill's rehabilitation come about? Bill's mind would be healed when he learned how to respond to the needs of the disabled not with fear, but with help. Jesus told him, "All symptoms of hurt need true helpfulness, and whenever they are met with this, the mind that so meets them heals itself" (Absence from Felicity, p. 300). Which brings us to the "Being truly helpful" prayer. This prayer was given to Bill to use as a practice at the rehabilitation conference, to help him be truly helpful. Here is the original dication of the prayer:

Bill, you can do much on behalf of your own rehabilitation and Helen's, and much more universally as well, if you think of the Princeton meetings in this way:
I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Christ, who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because the One 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" (Absence from Felicity, p. 301).

This prayer, then, is an answer to a variation on the very question under discussion here: As Course students, what mental attitude should we hold as we relate with the disabled? So let's look at that answer, line by line (my comments here will draw in large part from Robert Perry's excellent article "Being Truly Helpful," a commentary on this prayer which appears in the February 1998 issue of the Circle's newsletter, A Better Way):

"I am here only to be truly helpful"

How can we be truly helpful to the disabled? Perhaps we can best discover the answer to this by looking at what Jesus told Bill is not truly helpful. It is not truly helpful to fearfully recoil from the disabled because we look down upon their damaged bodies and egos, seeing these people as unworthy, damaged goods. Therefore, to be truly helpful means to look beyond their bodies and see their infinite worth; as Robert puts it in his article, we must cease "identifying others with their damaged bodies, malfunctioning brains and dysfunctional egos." This idea is suggested by a comment Jesus made to Bill about rehabilitation:

Rehabilitation is an attitude of praising God as He Himself knows praise. He offers praise to you and you must offer it to others (Absence from Felicity, p. 300).

What does it mean to praise God as He Himself knows praise, and to offer God's praise to others? Robert's commentary on the above line captures the essence of this praise:

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.I.29:1-2).

So, as we relate with a disabled person, we are to try to look beyond her damaged body and perceive instead the face of Christ shining beyond the body. Our physical eyes will still see a damaged body, of course, but the eyes of Christ in us will perceive the Son of God at the same time. This is how the Course would have us see everyone, not just the disabled. This is being truly helpful, and being truly helpful is itself the way we praise God: "God is praised whenever any mind learns to be wholly helpful" (T-4.VII.8:1).

And we are only to be truly helpful. We need to set aside our own agendas, our own distorted versions of how to "help," and truly help in the way God would have us help. More on that below.

"I am here to represent Christ, who sent me."

In the original context, this line meant "Bill, you are here at this conference because I (Jesus) sent you." To us, then, it means that wherever we are, we are there because Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) sent us there for a purpose—to be truly helpful. When we are relating with a disabled person, we can remind ourselves that we are not there because we're getting paid, or because it's part of our job description, or to uphold our reputation for doing good works, or because this person is our mother and we owe her for all the sacrifices she made for us. Instead, we have been sent by an agent of God to help a holy one "especially entrusted to [our] care" (T-31.VII.8:3). How would our feelings about this encounter be different if we really believed this?

"I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because the One who sent me will direct me."

Of course, one of the big problems we face in any helping situation is: Just what should I say? What should I do? How can I know how to really help this person? This line lets us off the hook. We don't have to know what to say or do, because the One who sent us will tell us. And He will not only tell us what the content should be (which we've already seen is to be truly helpful by seeing the face of Christ in the one being helped), but what the form should be as well:

"What should I do for him, Your holy Son?" should be the only thing you ever ask when help is needed and forgiveness sought. The form the seeking takes you need not judge. And let it not be you who sets the form in which forgiveness comes to save God's Son….[Christ] knows the need; the question and the answer. He will say exactly what to do, in words that you can understand and you can also use. Do not confuse His function with your own. He is the Answer. You the one who hears (S-2.III.5:1-3,6-10).

So when we are working with the disabled, we are to ask the Holy Spirit what to do. This can take many forms: prayer, asking trusted friends or colleagues for guidance, asking the disabled person herself what she needs. The Holy Spirit can speak through anyone and anything. If we work with the disabled for a living, leaving things to the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that we have to jettison the professional training we may have received. No doubt He will draw upon and make use of our training and experience. But the point is, whatever our training and experience, we let Him call the shots. This allows us to draw upon a wisdom much greater than our own, and relieves us of the burden of having to decide for ourselves how best to help someone.

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

Often, helping feels like a sacrifice. We feel we would rather be anywhere else than here, helping this (perhaps difficult) person whose disability reminds us of our own weakness. But here, we are told that we can be content, and we can be content because of Who is with us—Jesus, Christ, the Holy Spirit. We can be content anywhere with company like this! So as we work with a disabled person, we can remember Who is with us, and rest content even in the midst of difficult or unpleasant situations.

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

This line means "I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal others." This is why helping others is no sacrifice: to reiterate a statement from Jesus above, "All symptoms of hurt need true helpfulness, and whenever they are met with this, the mind that so meets them heals itself." This is because, as the Course so often tells us, giving and receiving are the same. Giving healing is the way to receive healing. If we truly believed this, we would jump at the chance to help others. And truly believing this would really transform our encounters with the disabled.

Conclusion

To conclude, let's tie all of this together. Here is what the author of the Course would have us do as we relate with the disabled. He would have us go into our encounter with them, as he would have us go into all encounters, with this frame of mind (you may even want to use what I've written below as a practice when you are relating with a disabled person):

"I am here only to be truly helpful to this person. This means that I must gently let go of my ego's fear of this person's disability, and see before me instead a whole, complete Son of God, worthy of God's infinite praise. This is my only goal in this situation."

"I am here not to serve my own agenda or to get my own needs met, but only to represent Him Who sent me here to help this person."

"I let go of my worries about what to say or do in this situation, because He Who sent me will direct me to those words and actions that are most helpful to this person."

"Though my ego would rather be somewhere else so it won't have to face its fear of this person's disability, I am content to be here with this person, because I know the One Who sent me is with me. Because of this, it is not a burden to be with this person, but a joy."

"I recognize that being truly helpful to this person is the way I overcome my ego's fear of her disability. Helping this person under the tutelage of the One Who sent me is thus no sacrifice, for in helping her, I myself am healed along with her."

A final note: I myself have personal experience working with the disabled. I worked in a group home for three severely retarded adult women, and in a home for troubled youths. In these jobs I faced many difficult situations, including being physically attacked on a regular basis. I found Course practices, including the "Being truly helpful" prayer, to be highly effective in helping me bring a truly loving state of mind to my work. I believe that these practices made me much more effective—much more truly helpful—in this work.

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