Who doesn’t love a tool that works? Whether you’re a master carver wielding a specialized chisel or a kid using a child-size hammer to pound your first nail, the right tool makes all the difference.
I especially love tools that are effective for my own life and for my work as a personal life and family coach. In both, I meet the topics of hurt and forgiveness often. “He hurt me so much—how can I forgive him?” And, “I was so thoughtless. How can she forgive me?” And, “Why give my life to God, when he would allow this?”
If you’ve had these struggles too, you’ll find help in Anne Costa’s new book, Lord, I Hurt! The Grace of Forgiveness and the Road to Healing. This is no self-help guide with quick fixes, but “a tool for self reflection as you work toward healing, forgiveness, and freedom.” That’s the kind of tool I like to work with!
Costa’s book falls into three parts. The first explores forgiveness—what it is and what it means. The second addresses obstacles such as anger, fear, and grief, and offers paths to healing. The third contains prayers and resources. Each chapter includes real-life stories and ends with a “For Your Reflection” feature that suggests prayer exercises, Scripture readings, and very practical steps for moving ahead. This section is invaluable! We can think and talk about forgiveness and healing all we want, but without prayer and action, nothing will change.
Anne Costa is an experienced spiritual coach and social worker. She is especially credible, though, because she has dealt with her own hurts— both self-inflicted and those caused by others. She has faced paralyzing depression and fears so acute that she once required hospitalization—and has come through it strengthened by God’s healing grace. This journey began when she admitted: “Dear Lord, … I hurt!”
Grit and Grace. Costa cautions that denying pain does not make the problem go away but keeps it buried, still alive and dangerous! You can’t resolve what you refuse to acknowledge, though. My simple way of remembering this is: Feel (the pain)! Reveal (the cause)! Deal (with it)! Costa urges that we do this in God’s presence, trusting him with our deepest hurts and greatest fears. “Get real” with God, she says. “He will not put us to shame… . He will give us all the help and wisdom we need to heal.”
Costa herself “gets real” in addressing difficult questions about forgiveness:
• What does it mean to forgive?
• How do I know I’ve truly forgiven?
• What if the same person continues to hurt me?
• Does forgiving mean forgetting about it or giving in, no matter what?
Especially helpful is her dispelling of the misconception that our forgiveness must be automatic and instant. I know from my coaching that this is a recipe for disaster! True forgiveness is not easy, simple, and straightfor ward, Costa insists. It’s a spiritual work in progress. It takes a combi nation of “our grit and God’s grace.” Fortunately, God allows us many opportunities to learn this skill and benefit from it. And “the more we forgive, the easier it becomes.” Such good news! As forgiveness changes us, the more consistently we make choices that lead to eternal life.
And while forgiveness doesn’t unfold according to a formula, it has certain hallmark characteristics. Here are a few: You stop experiencing yourself as a victim and let go of bitterness and revenge. You begin to see something positive in the experience. You pray for the one who hurt you. Even if signs like these are slow in coming, says Costa, consider them “part of your vision for the future as you seek freedom.”
Insights That Surprise. Certain sections of Lord, I Hurt! may startle some readers. For example, the chapter “Forgiving God” addresses the buried anger that we may carry, following times of suffering when God seems absent. But isn’t it sacrilegious to think that God needs forgiving? “After all, he is perfect and we are not.” Still, Costa explains: “I believe that God understands our humanity and our demands for an explanation.” Besides, “blaming God for our suffering can never bring the peace we want, but finding a way to forgive him will.” Then, from her own experi ence, she shares some truths that can help us do that.
Another chapter makes the some what unexpected suggestion that not forgiving ourselves can be a form of pride—a choice to keep wallow ing “in the misery of our mistakes,” an excuse for not changing. And we may even feel that being down on ourselves is humble or makes us look humble! But, Costa points out, focus ing on our failures and “unforgiveable” acts only distances us from God’s mercy. And again, she presents the truth: “God loves us in our sinfulness, and we are called to this kind of love too. There are no unforgiveable sins, only unconfessed ones, and there are no sins greater than God’s mercy.”
Those of us who struggle with codependency may be surprised to learn that healthy boundaries are essential to healing and forgiveness. These “emotional fences” provide “the distance we need to reflect, process, and decide how to best respond to the pain and tragedies of our lives in a self-respecting manner.” Costa’s helpful “compare and contrast” lists of codependent and healthy characteristics shed light on this important subject.
Another insight concerns grief. There is no one “right way” to grieve, Costa assures us, no orderly sequence of steps for all to follow. Furthermore, “men and women grieve differently.” How often serious marriage troubles follow on the heels of grief! Here is simple wisdom that can save relationships.
Become Who You Are! God made each of us for eternity. As C.S. Lewis observed: “There are no ordinary people, no mere mortals.” But each of us gets to choose how we will live forever: as “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Our Creator’s desire, which Pope John Paul II expressed so often, is: “Become who you really are.” And who are we, really? Whoever God created us to be! And so he invites us to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind“(Romans 12:2). He supplies us with graces and gifts. And he gives us witnesses like Anne Costa, whose journey into forgiveness and healing can inspire our own. n
Franne Vanicelli is a Family and Personal Life Coach (www.livinglightcoaching.com).
Lord, I Hurt! The Grace of Forgiveness and the Road to Healing, by Anne Costa (softcover, 144 pp.), is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 or online at www. wau.org. If you’d like to read an excerpt, please visit our Web site.