There is no such thing as a painless divorce and in the Old Testament, God says he hates divorce, Lakewood Discipleship Pastor Scott Smith said.
“And I think anyone who has been through divorce would say they hate it as well,” he said.
Therefore, to help those dealing with divorce, especially ones in a church setting, Lakewood Baptist Church looks to minister to them with its program, DivorceCare.
“The (DivorceCare) group brings a sense that ‘I belong here,’ ‘I’m not alone,’” Smith said. “For many inside and outside the church it feels like a lonely journey that nobody understands what one is going through and that isn’t true. There are plenty of people on the same road.”
DivorceCare provides a unique setting where participants watch a DVD and discuss what they saw and the emotions they had or are having with a facilitator who has experienced divorce, Lakewood DivorceCare facilitator Stacey Reece said.
“With 200 marriages alone at Lakewood, we have had about seven couples who divorced,” Smith said.
The 13-week nondenominational program teaches Christian values and helps people incorporate daily devotionals at home between the weekly meetings.
“You’ll see people in age ranges from very young to old,” Reece said.
But Lakewood’s main goal is to help people before the divorce happens.
Smith encourages premarital and marital counseling to help lower the possibility for divorce. And if divorce happens, Reece is there to help on the back end.
Younger couples who do not have premarital counseling before marriage fail to focus on building a strong marriage.
“When you’re young and getting married, your main focus is the ceremony,” Smith said.
Divorcee Jeremy Shockley knows about getting married too young and not building a strong foundation.
“After having a baby, we decided to go to Gatlinburg to get married,” Shockley said.
The marriage lasted a week before the couple separated and finalized the divorce after 60 days. But it was his second marriage that had him seeking solace.
“Married for almost five years and very much in love, things kind of went sideways and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself,” he said.
Shockley attended Divorce-Care class twice. The first time he was there for the curriculum. The second time he found friends and fellowship.
“It is much like mourning a death,” Shockley said. “And you got to have support and somebody to go through that process with you.”
Going through the program, Shockley thought about both marriages and other parts of his life.
“It’s funny the things they teach you can really be used in everyday life, like dealing with co-workers and friends,” he said. “You go to this group and you get the tools you need to help you deal with people, with struggles and with emotions. You get the support you need and at the same time you’re getting the lessons from the classes.”
Knowing the divorce process is not easy, Shockley encourages others to go through it with someone such as a counselor, family or DivorceCare. Going through it with another person makes the process less difficult, he said.
DivorceCare ministers to anyone, not just people within the church.
“Often times we will see people within the community who do not have a church home and others from surrounding churches,” Reece said, “and often people within our church will find another class to attend.”
It is not uncommon to see people in the group who have been married for decades.
“We had a gentleman in his 70s who had been married for 40 years and went through a divorce,” Reece said.
The senior citizen went through the program twice.
“He was a very angry bitter individual the first 13 weeks,” Reece said. “The second go-round he was a whole different person.”
The coed group setting allows participants from different backgrounds and situations to offer their thoughts, which help others to see ways they could have handled a particular situation in their marriage.
Reece said one group setting was all women except for one man.
“The women stated they were there because their husbands cheated on them,” he said. “The man said to the women of the group, ‘I’m practically y’all’s ex-husband.’”
With two complete different views, the class grew to respect each other and actually learned more about themselves and how to cope with their divorce, Reece said.
The course is there to help people put their lives back in order and help place God back in the center of their lives.
“It is a necessary ministry,” Smith said. “It is a fact of our culture both within and outside the church.
“In today’s culture, both inside and outside the church, there is divorce for multiple reasons,” he continued. “Regardless of what the reason is, we are going to seek to minister to the person who is going through the divorce.”
Before his divorce, Reece and his former wife were front-row Baptists and church leaders.
“It was very hard to walk in and pretend nothing had changed,” he said.
But once Reece accepted that his life had changed due to the divorce, his healing began.
“Being part of the church body is about a change in life, going from a sinner to being a man or woman of God through Jesus,” Reece said.