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A COURSE IN MIRACLES Chapter 16 The Forgiveness of Illusions

I. True Empathy

1. To empathize does not mean to join in suffering, for that is what you must refuse to understand. That is the ego’s interpretation of empathy and is always used to form a special relationship in which the suffering is shared. The capacity to empathize is very useful to the Holy Spirit, provided you let Him use it in His way. His way is very different. He does not understand suffering and would have you teach it is not understandable. When He relates through you, He does not relate through your ego to another ego. He does not join in pain, understanding that healing pain is not accomplished by delusional attempts to enter into it and lighten it by sharing the delusion.

2. The clearest proof that empathy as the ego uses it is destructive lies in the fact that it is applied only to certain types of problems and in certain people. These it selects out and joins with. And it never joins except to strengthen itself. Having identified with what it thinks it understands, the ego sees itself and would increase itself by sharing what is like itself. Make no mistakes about this maneuver; the ego always empathizes to weaken, and to weaken is always to attack. You do not know what empathizing means. Yet of this you may be sure; if you will merely sit quietly by and let the Holy Spirit relate through you, you will empathize with strength, and will gain in strength and not in weakness.

3. Your part is only to remember this; You do not want anything you value to come of a relationship. You choose neither to hurt it nor to heal it in your own way. You do not know what healing is. All you have learned of empathy is from the past. And there is nothing from the past that you would share, for there is nothing from the past that you would keep. Do not use empathy to make the past real, and so perpetuate it. Step gently aside, and let healing be done for you. Keep but one thought in mind and do not lose sight of it, however tempted you may be to judge any situation, and to determine your response by judging it. Focus your mind only on this: I am not alone, and I would not intrude the past upon my Guest. I have invited Him, and He is here. I need do nothing except not to interfere.

4. True empathy is of Him who knows what it is. You will learn His interpretation of it if you let Him use your capacity for strength, and not for weakness. He will not desert you but be sure that you desert not Him. Humility is strength in this sense only; that to recognize and accept the fact that you do not know is to recognize and accept the fact that He does know. You are not sure that He will do His part, because you have never yet done yours completely. You cannot know how to respond to what you do not understand.  Be tempted not in this and yield not to the ego’s triumphant use of empathy for its glory.

5. The triumph of weakness is not what you would offer to a brother. And yet you recognize no triumph but this.  This is not knowledge, and the form of empathy which would bring this about is so distorted that it would imprison what it would release. The unredeemed cannot redeem, yet they have a Redeemer. Attempt to teach Him not. You are the learner; He the teacher. Do not confuse your role with His, for this will never bring peace to anyone. Offer your empathy to Him for it is His perception and His strength that you would share. And let Him offer you His strength and His perception, to be shared through you.

6. The meaning of love is lost in any relationship that looks to weakness and hopes to find love there. The power of love, which is its meaning, lies in the strength of God that hovers over it and blesses it silently by enveloping it in healing wings. Let this be, and do not try to substitute your “miracle” for this.  I have said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other.  Foolish requests are foolish merely because they conflict since they always contain some element of specialness. Only the Holy Spirit recognizes foolish needs as well as real ones. And He will teach you how to meet both without losing either.

7. You will attempt to do this only in secrecy. And you will think that by meeting the needs of one you do not jeopardize another, because you keep them separate and secret from each other. That is not the way, for it leads not to life and truth. No needs will long be left unmet if you leave them all to Him whose function is to meet them. That is His function, and not yours. He will not meet them secretly, for He would share everything you give through Him. That is why He gives it. What you give through Him is for the whole Sonship, not for part of it. Leave Him His function, for He will fulfill it if you but ask Him to enter your relationships and bless them for you.[1]

In today’s devotional text, Jesus tells us that there is no reason for suffering.  We are not to empathize with misery of any kind.  We are not to try to find a cause for it.  When we mistakenly empathize with the suffering of others we will form special relationships based upon ego.  I will share my sorrow over the death of my daughter with you; you will share your death stories with me and none of us will benefit except to be sorrier, to have formed a little club of mutual suffering which leads nowhere! 

God does not design suffering for us, nor does He even understand what suffering is or why it exists.  God is Love.  Just as you in your love could not fathom hurting your little ones for any reason whatsoever, so does God hold tender and loving compassion for us.  Only that which opposes Love, which opposes God could come up with such a thing as suffering, sacrifice, and slavery.  No matter what your particular scriptures say about God, the message of Christ is a God of love, the father of the prodigal who awaited patiently for his son to come to his senses and come home. 

When we examine the story of the prodigal closely, there is no mention of anybody being sent to chase down the son and join in his prodigal ways in order to understand what would cause him to do such things.  There is no mention of the prodigal going to some form of substance abuse anonymous for the rest of his days sharing tales of his wastrel lifestyle.  There is no boo-hooing about childhood abuse and trauma.  Jesus tells us to step out of all of that. 

When someone tells us something that would cause our hearts to empathize with them, we empathize with Holy Spirit.  We come from higher ground.  We do not jump in with stories of our own.  We do not try to understand what they did to deserve such grief.  We simply throw them a rope, we reach out our hand, we pull them out of the muck and worry not about what particular kind of muck it may be or how they got there.

The ego’s kind of empathy weakens and never strengthens.  If I have suffered from an addiction to sex, and I go to meetings with other sex addicts, all I am going to hear are stories of sexual addictions.  I am not going to hear about truly loving, stable, and sexually faithful relationships.  I am going to hear about all kinds of theories about who or what to blame for what happened to me.  Taking responsibility for my sexual addiction will be weakened, not strengthened. The ego has no desire to heal me, only to weaken me and to use me for attack against myself and others.  It may make me feel good to know I am not the only one who has not learned to resist that which leaves me empty and hankering for more, but I will not respect you anymore than I respect myself when I hear of your stories of weakness. 

When we quiet our lower minds and come to Holy Spirit we will empathize from strength offering true help and not weakness.  When others come to us with their pain, with their heartache, with their grief, instead of telling them our own stories and joining with them in how rotten and unfair other people are and how they always leave us down, instead of wearing ourselves out running after them and doing for them what they should be doing for themselves, we will encourage them to be strong, to be responsible, to examine the situation and rely on their holiness to see them through. 

We interfere with the process of healing by jumping in and offering “help,” by remembering things from the past and applying it to the current situation, by wanting something from a relationship.  We may harbor secret thoughts that by sharing our stories with others who are going through a similar shame or sorrow, we will form a bond.  They will tell give us a sense of belonging, we can all be pals and wallow in our weakness together.  We will run to each other and fall upon each other when we are weak.  Sooner or later one of us or all of us will let each other down – a cause for attack, defense, more weakness – no strength, truth, or love.    

In order to truly help someone else, we must not latch on to someone for their money, their affection, their appreciation, the status or friendship that they may be able to offer us.  In order to heal and to be of true help in the world, we must know that we already have everything we could possibly want or need – our desires and needs are already fulfilled. We have no need to share anything from the past in order to establish intimacy. A relationship cannot be real if it is established in weakness. 

In today’s devotional practice, Jesus tells us to focus our mind on true empathy by consciously inviting Holy Spirit to take charge, recognizing that in so doing God’s Kingdom is with us.  We can call upon Holy Spirit at all times, stepping aside from worry, concern, and the ignorant tendencies to delve about in the past to find a solution.  We can rely on Holy Spirit to work it out and refuse to interfere.

This is the way of true empathy. Holy Spirit is always there – He never deserts us.  We are the ones who tend to ignore our holiness and invulnerability in Sonship and fall back on our human needs for specialness. If I try to help you from my neediness in regard to having friends, needing appreciation, wanting money and recognition – the ego triumphs but you will not be helped or healed. 

When I read paragraph five, I was reminded of an instance where a friend of mine called me to ask me what to do when her son wanted her to watch his crazy dog for several weeks.  This dog was notorious for chewing up her furniture, scratching her beautiful hardwood floors, and terrorizing her cat.  It barked at night and made messes on the floor.  Instead of going to Holy Spirit, I thought I had all the answers.  I told her about how aggravated I am when we dog sit our granddogs.  I embellished the inconveniences and how used we end up feeling.  I complained how we don’t ask anyone to take in our chickens and cats and ducks when we go away and bring them in the house to live with.  I groused about the dog hair, the dog stink, the dog messes.  I did exactly what Jesus is telling us not to do in such instances.  I joined in weakness and did not come from strength.  I did not offer her helpful advice, such as being honest with her son about the damage her dog causes and the peace it destroys but rather encouraged her to join with me in our mutual feelings of vulnerability and inability to be forthright and honest with our grown children. 

When we try to seek mutuality in weakness, we will never be strong or give true help of any kind.   Holy Spirit cannot work in the lower realm of the ego.  Holy Spirit comes from the Kingdom of God and points us in that direction and expects us to point others to a realm of speaking truth in strength, helping and healing from an everlasting abundance of power that can only be found in love, peace, and joy.  Our pasts teach us nothing but attack and defense measures, secret agendas, hidden grudges, resentments, and pretense.  Holy Spirit teaches us to have honest, equal, and holy relationships where I trust you to hear the truth without getting all huffed up and never speaking to me again.  I trust you with my boundaries – I do not have to complain about you taking advantage of me to others, I can tell you in truthful, loving words with no resentment, no fear, no vulnerability that for whatever reason what you are doing is not making me happy.  When I come to you with honesty and you love me and want me to be happy, you will gladly stop doing whatever it is that you are doing to me that makes me unhappy.  If you get all stoved up and want to keep doing it anyway – then I will know that you are not ready to have a holy relationship with me and I will not seek one with you.  I will give any relationship that I have with you, no matter how special, to holiness.  I will not “need” a relationship with you if it brings me any kind of sorrow.  Any relationship that I have in dread or sorrow is a triumph to the ego and not to God.   

Jesus tells us in paragraph six that we are to do all things for our brothers as long as it is not hurtful to anyone.  If you need someone to go along with you and hold your hand, I can hold your hand even though this is a foolish request for in holiness we know that flesh hands are weak and that it may be an imposition to me to have to hold your hand when you are a big boy and should be able to stand on your own.  But if holding your hand time after time begins to wear me down, use up my resources, and hinder my holy relationships with others, specialness has replaced holiness in our relationship and specialness will always be hurtful, harmful and in need of healing.

Our holiness will be able to determine which needs make no sense at all and are calls to weakness and which needs are genuine calls for help and healing.  When we rely on Holy Spirit, we learn how to address all needs, foolish and otherwise without losing anything at all. 

When we attempt to meet all the needs of others in an effort to keep on their good side, of maintaining our special place in their hearts, of inheriting their wealth, or sucking up some of their popularity and success – we will think nobody knows what we are really up to.  We will think we are doing the right thing.  Dog-sitting is what parents do for their granddogs, we will tell ourselves with resentment in our hearts, instead of being honest and not needing to prove to our kids what great parents we are.  We will think that this is the smart way to be.  But Jesus tells us that this way does not lead to life and truth.  There are no secret agendas in holiness.  When we leave all people, their neediness, demands, and calls for help to Holy Spirit, we tell the truth in love, we are honest and only do what brings no harm to ourselves or anybody else.  We are blessed by holiness and the blessing we receive in holiness is not in secret.  Holy Spirit blesses everything we give to Him – every worry, care, concern.  Keep it to ourselves and try to noodle it out our own way, we only get more worry, care, and concern.  When give our relationships to Holy Spirit, we make them honest and therein we bless the whole Sonship, not just part of it. 

Today in your personal devotions ask Holy Spirit to enter into all of your relationships and bless them for you and through you.  Ask Holy Spirit to overturn every stone and let you see with courage and clarity all the ways in which you may obligate others to you and let others obligate you to them with dishonesty, with the ego’s kind of empathy that joins in weakness.  Be holy – wholly loving, honest, and without fear – living for Sonship in Christ Who makes us one. 


[1] A Course in Miracles. Chapter 16 The forgiveness of illusions. I. True empathy.  Foundation for Inner Peace, Second Edition (1992).

For daily 2021 Workbook lessons visit www.i-choose-love.com courtesy of Linda R.

Audio credit: www.eckiefriar.com

Filed under: ACIM, Teaching and Learning

About the Author

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Coming up on sixty, my love for God, home and hearth, my husband and family fueled my decision to devote the rest of my life only to pursuits which brought love, joy, peace, and purpose. I am a writer, seeker, student, and teacher with experience professional and otherwise from waitressing to teaching the English language in China, Taiwan, and Singapore. I hold a BA in Psychology from Bloomsburg University, which took nearly 30 years to attain while I squeezed courses in between raising my children, journaling, relationships, work, and an assortment of escapades, some of which I would rather forget! An ongoing passion for reading, writing, adventure, food, and fun, eventually led me to the love of my life, James, whom I met in 1996 and married in 1997. Our life together has been an exciting journey of work and travel, spiritual awakening, and domestic bliss ever since. Although we have experienced the tragic loss of family members and friends through death and estrangement, we have managed to turn our special relationship into a holy one by the grace of God and an acute and growing awareness of “there must be a better way!” In 2006, I published my first novel, Luella’s Calling, and am currently working on my second, Grover Good and the Stone Chateau. From 2013 through 2018, I worked as a Prevention Education Specialist for Transitions, a local domestic violence sexual abuse victim’s service agency. My work there, fueled by a lifelong enthusiasm for teaching, led me to obtain an MS in Education from Scranton University. In 2018, I resigned to accompany James on his work travels while focusing on my calling to study and teach A Course in Miracles. To that end, I dedicate the rest of my days to writing, sharing, and teaching the message of salvation found within the Course pages. Thank you for your interest in this blog. As I do not respond to comments on the posts, if you care to contact me, please email me at eckief@yahoo.com.

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