A loss through divorce is often compared to the death of a loved one.
But anyone going through divorce can find hope in encouragement, answers and friendship at the DivorceCare group at First Baptist Church.
Sessions are open to the public, including those who attend other churches and those without church homes. The program, which is non-denominational and features biblical teaching for individuals recovering from separation and divorce, is one of several support ministries at the church.
“DivorceCare and GriefCare are the two main support groups we [provide] as an outreach to the community,” said Ed Hale, associate pastor for the past seven years. “DivorceCare has been a big outreach for our church. We get people who are hurting, right off the street.”
The year-round ministry began four years ago at FBC, and meets every Wednesday evening, 6:30 to 8 p.m., for 12 sessions. A person can join the group at any time.
On average, five to 10 people are in a group. Meetings begin with a video presentation, followed by discussion. Topics include forgiveness, anger, depression, how divorce affects kids, new relationships, finances and reconciliation.
Many people attend the 12-week sessions two or three times, as long as they need to. Hale said healing has no time limit, and participants work through the process at their own rates.
Hale started DivorceCare 16 years ago at a Baptist church in Houston. He’s been married 32 years and never been divorced himself. But he saw a need and developed a curriculum.
“We’re about growing healthy families, and the way to do that is reaching upward, inward and outward, with our focus being on Jesus Christ,” Hale said. “Upward is worship, inward is discipline, and outward is service.”
Reconciliation is the first goal Hale sets for attendees.
“We pray for healing for that person when reconciliation can’t be accomplished,” said Hale. “Forgiveness has to be shown to others. Through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, and in the same way, we have to show forgiveness to others, not condemning what happened.”
Children are strongly affected by divorce, often thinking it’s their fault.
“It helps to remind them it’s not their fault and not to talk bad about the other parent,” said Hale. “One of the kids in the video shares that when her parents got divorced, it changed her life forever; she wasn’t the same anymore. God hates divorce, because it affects the whole family.”
Adam and Holly Wheat, a blended family, have four young daughters between them and a new baby together. They met when he installed Internet service at her home. Later, they became friends. He started attending DivorceCare on her invitation, as individuals. The couple eventually started dating and have been married two years.
They wanted to make it right for the kids, so they didn’t live together until they got married.
“When a church offers a thing like DivorceCare, it’s telling people in the community it’s OK to come as you are, where you are,” she said. “A lot of people won’t come to church after they’ve divorced, because they believe they won’t be accepted or loved.”
Adam thinks a lot of people feel they have to stay in a relationship for that very reason.
“There are three things that set you free from your marriage: abandonment, adultery and abuse,” Holly said. “I learned that in class, and it made me feel less guilty and more forgiven. Divorce was unwanted by me. Sometimes you don’t have a choice to reconcile. But you have to forgive your spouse and reconcile with God.”
Holly said divorce has a long-lasting effect on families.
“It is constant death, and you can never close the casket because you have to see this person and deal with this person because of your children,” said Holly.
By participating in the Blended Families class, Adam learned when he married Holly, she also married his former relationships.
“She didn’t just marry me; she has my ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law to deal with, too,” he said. “They always say God will bring your spouse to you if your relationship is meant to be.”
Three single women attending the sessions said they’ve gained sanity, empathy and validation, and learned to avoid rebound relationships.
Connie Foreman felt like she needed to try DivorceCare, and hoped she might meet other people there she could talk to, who were going through the same situation.
“My intention was to come one time, but everyone was really inviting, in different degrees of the healing process,” Foreman said. “It was really helpful to hear people at the end of the healing process when I was at the beginning.”
She went through the 12-week sessions twice.
April Hixon got divorced last year, and has just started attending the sessions.
“I had some healing, but there are things you just stuff and bottle inside and don’t deal with,” Hixon said.
Rebound relationships find people repeating the same old unhealthy patterns of attraction.
“We learned what to look out for, so we don’t make the same mistakes or worse,” Hixon said. “It’s so easy, as a female with emotional needs to be desired and wanted and validated to be desperate and look to wrong directions for validation. When you go through divorce, it’s like the ultimate rejection or failure.”
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