The Impact of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a trait many of us applaud and agree we all need to extend to others. That is, until we must actually do it.
That’s why the recent story of a New England pastor who forgave the drunk driver that smashed into his family’s car moved me so powerfully. Not just because Terry Dorsett forgave the woman. He also admitted that he went through a “dark period” before he was able to do so.
As he told Baptist Press, the accident broke his youngest son’s back, nearly killing him. Dorsett’s leg was so badly mangled at one point doctors thought they would have to amputate it.
While surgery and nine months of therapy saved the leg, Dorsett (now executive director of Baptist Churches of New England) struggled to forgive the woman, who worked at the store across the street from his home.
“I was furious at her and prayed she would get drunk again and drive into a tree and die,” he told BP.
Pastors aren’t always so forthright about admitting their flaws and weaknesses. I think it’s a hazard of leadership. One has to keep a steady hand in the public eye. Airing one’s shortcomings can have a negative impact on a congregation and disillusion those with a shaky form of faith.
But what impressed me is that when I met Terry in 2000, he never mentioned this accident, which happened in 1998.
Though now based in Northborough, Massachusetts, he then lived in central Vermont. A mission team from our church in Louisville, Kentucky had traveled there to start work on an old Catholic rectory.
The building was being converted into a statewide retreat center for the Vermont Baptist Association. In addition to various meetings, it would offer short-term housing for missionaries on furlough.
Since ours was the first team to tackle renovations, we got dirty. Tearing out old soffit and plaster covered us with dust and left us tired at the end of each day.
Yet we also thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, glad that our team of what had started out to be 12 shrank to five before we arrived. In such tight quarters, any more than five of us and some folks would have been standing around.
While we did only a smidgen of the total project, when I saw a story seven years later about the opening of the center, I smiled with joy over what our crew had helped accomplish.
Terry and I maintained contact for a while after that. Several years later, I interviewed him for a story I was writing for a missions agency. When I flew to Boston in 2015 to lead a Christian writers conference, I tried to arrange a get-together, but the logistics proved impossible.
Indeed, that failed attempt was our last personal encounter until I read the story two months ago about his struggle with forgiveness.
“God was gracious to me,” he told BP. “I learned to forgive Barbara. I led her to faith in Christ and baptized her. She remained a member of the church in Vermont where I was pastor until she died (in October).
“Learning to forgive was hard, but it was also life-changing. It set the route for much of my future ministry.”
What grace. Maybe that’s why he and his family impressed me with their friendliness, hospitality and positive outlook despite the challenges of ministering in a small town on limited resources.
In learning to let go of deep hurt, Terry became the kind of person who embodies the One who forgave all of us.