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Forgiveness gets forgotten

November 25th, 2004 · 5 Comments

Forgiveness has been on my mind for a while. I’ve written this post and then wondered when I should publish it. Recently it seems that saying sorry has become a popular topic among blogs including The Art of the Apology, A Million Guys in Pajamas and So sorry.

Here is my post…originally written in October…


This afternoon I was tidying my garden for winter. I was taking a pair of loppers to my herb bed, and taking advantage of the extra empty garbage can remaining for tomorrow’s pickup. In the cold damp air, I employed my enthusiasm, energy, and hidden desire to be a military hairdresser…if my plants could talk I would have to ask their forgiveness!

I have a large lemon balm plant that has multiplied in size – and sent out numerous small but scented progeny into the garden – since I first received a starter from a neighbor. There are also clusters of chives that have reproduced like rabbits across the bed. And an oregano plant grew up from seed a couple years ago with long aromatic branches.

As I hacked my herbs, chopping them nearly to the ground, I noticed yet another plant behind the lemon balm and chives. It was woody and looked a bit neglected, suffering from a lack of sunlight. Then I remembered what it was I had planted: hyssop.

I had picked out the plant a couple years ago out of curiousity. At that time, I was trying to create a garden planned from passion with a bit of practicality. I wanted roses, large and miniature, pink and white, since they reminded me of our wedding. I wanted strawberries from our island’s history. I wanted an herb bed where I could find basil for sauces and rosemary for marinade.

And I picked up hyssop because I had heard of it in the Bible. I’ve been reading the Bible since childhood, but how much of it do I understand? Do I even know what certain plants or practices are? I had no idea what hyssop looked like.

Hyssop appears in a psalm about forgiveness.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Hyssop was used in purification rituals such as to sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb onto the door lintel. It was an herb that was used to help restore people to health and to God and to each other.

I forgot about the hyssop plant, as it became buried beneath the lemon balm and chives which were more fragrant and productive.

And often I think forgiveness gets forgotten. I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship and restoration, from examples I’ve seen in my life and from some excellent posts, such as David Weinberger’s and snippy’s Yom Kippur pieces.

People have problems. Rights are wronged. We are selfish and narrow-minded.

But I have seen now many times people, including myself, getting hung up on their own hurt, pursuing principles and practices, rather than the break of relationship between them.

In order to have a real relationship, two-way forgiveness must be possible. When people have offended each other, or broken trust, they must be able to discuss it together. This can be a delicate dance, and abuse can occur. In my notes here, I am ideally imagining a healthy relationship restored while I also recognize that it is not always possible to find forgiveness between two people or parties.

For forgiveness to occur:

1. Both parties have to be willing to admit they may have made mistakes.

2. Both parties need to be willing to listen to what the other has to say.

3. Both parties must feel free to express feelings about what has happened.

4. Both parties should desire the relationship to be restored and healed.

4. Forgiveness must be specific, not a general blanket apology.

Yet forgiveness can not be demanded by either side. Those who have wronged must ask with humility, aware that they cannot force restoration and that they are at the other party’s mercy for healing. Those who have been hurt should seek to see clearly enough to recognize their own humanity and fallibility, and to pour out forgiveness with both grace and wisdom.

5. The party that has wronged must be willing to confess wrong, and to try not to repeat it again. The party that has wronged should also try to do something to restore what has been broken.

6. The party that has been hurt needs to accept the other’s confession and yet realize that the other party may indeed hurt again. No one can make a perfect promise. Resiliency, hope and faith are required.

7. If helpful and possible, at least some of the process of forgiveness should be open to other people, such as a mediator, counselor, mutual friends, etc., in order to have others who can help keep the relationship going and progressing in a new direction.

Sometimes forgiveness has to be one-way. Even secret and silent. I have had to do this in my own life, when I have been hurt but two-way dialogue and healing was not possible. I imagine that others have forgiven me without mentioning it to me either.

But I think it is ideal to have those conversations of cleansing. Ted and I don’t hurt each other often, but it is probably in my relationship with him where I have had the most opportunities to practice giving and receiving forgiveness. What I love about my relationship with my husband is that he always accepts responsibility for what he has done wrong. I wish I could say I am as soft all the time!

I’m grateful that Ted and I can talk about everything together. We don’t have any taboos or hot spots. We don’t cut off conversation or refuse to respond. We do have hurts. I think by now we have some idea what words or actions might cut the other the most. The crazy thing about marriage is that you trust each other to the point where you could easily destroy each other. I suppose it seems particularly crazy to me, since my parents divorced. I saw what can happen when two become one become two. But it also makes me grateful for Ted and for the dialogue we have, for the forgiveness we exchange. I’ve had my fears. I’ve been reluctant to confess. But he’s always forgiven me.

It’s not often that we confront each other or ask for forgiveness. Those are painful moments. But they are also some of the best and most passionate.

We all need cleansing. We all mess up and make mistakes in relationships. If only a piece of hyssop could heal a heart … then the contents of our family’s garbage can could bring blessings to multitudes…


If I have hurt you, if there are ways that our relationship needs restoration, please comment or email me at harrowmeAT yahoo.com
The Internet creates unusual connection to an anonymous audience, and I may not know if I have done damage.
Please let me know so I can say I’m sorry to you. Thank you.

Tags: journal

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Menachem Meijer // Nov 24, 2004 at 1:29 am

    I planted hyssop in my garden too, primarily because it is such an ancient herb: i even use it in cooking: goes great with roast meat, but my main reference in planting it was the purification rituals from the Torah. Thoughts on reconciliation and forgivenes, all excellent! Thanks

  • 2 Katherine // Nov 25, 2004 at 12:51 am

    This is an awesome, healthy post. Wow, asking the entire world what you might need to apologize for…that’s brave. Chapeau.

    The problem with getting this forgiveness thing done is that a lot of the time at least one party is not emotionally healthy enough to complete steps 2, 3, 4B, 5, and 7. The people who are good at apologizing and restoring relationships, in my experience, are the ones who do the least offending in the first place. In other words, the people who hurt others the most tend to be the ones least good at asking forgiveness. That’s problematic. It seems like they need a certain measure of inner healing before they can even begin this whole process. And the state they are in may very well stem from being mistreated themselves earlier in life. It’s a whole big mess that God needs to be involved in in order to fix. It’s God-sized.

    But still, I applaud your concentrated thinking about the steps and conditions of forgiveness. It definitely needs to come from deep in the heart, with strength borrowed from God, and yields great rewards of peace.

  • 3 Julie // Nov 27, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    Thank you, Menachem Meijer and Katherine, for your insights!

  • 4 Liz Ditz // Nov 28, 2004 at 9:29 pm

    What I keep learning–I am a slow learner–is that the other person’s co operation is not required for forgiveness.

    For example, dead people can’t really participate.

  • 5 jenny // Nov 30, 2004 at 5:29 am

    Great post, and I echo your conclusions… It sure is a hard road. For me, part of my struggle in forgiveness is letting go of what I can’t control (others) and accepting that once a line has been crossed, things may very well change permanently… trust (biggee), shape or existence of relationship, what my other realtionships look like and develop after such hurts and struggles in forgiveness…

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