Yesterday many people gave candy and flowers to the special person in their lives as a way of both celebrating and nurturing the love they feel. But for the approximately 389 men and women in Oak Park who are going through a divorce right now, yesterday was probably especially difficult. (The U.S. Census in 2000 counted 9,716 married couples x 2 x .02?#34;that’s the formula for roughly figuring the number of marriages that end in divorce each year: 389.)

For the past three years, First Baptist Church has offered a program of divorce recovery called DivorceCare, which attempts to provide healing for people experiencing the pain of divorce. Bruce Renshaw, who himself went through a divorce 12 years ago, coordinates and facilitates the 13-session program three times a year.

Divorce can be one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. Scales of stressors all rate a marital break near the top. Session one in the DivorceCare program is sub-titled, “Why divorce hurts so much.” The video presentation for this session answers its own question by saying it is a trauma caused by a major loss which is compounded by alienation, fear of the unknown, changes in energy distribution, loneliness, aloneness, guilt and financial uncertainty.

Renshaw said the program is effective because it balances learning with support. The typical session begins with a 45-minute video in which experts talk about the topic for the week, e.g. anger, new relationships, financial survival, “KidCare,” and forgiveness. Last Wednesday’s session on depression outlined the different kinds of depression people experience, listed 13 symptoms of depression, and laid out ways to deal with the depression that almost always accompanies a divorce. The experts in the video emphasized that depression is normal and, in fact, is a “healing emotion,” the purpose of which is to lead people to acceptance.

One participant?#34;let’s call her Melissa?#34;said, “Finding out more information on the stages of grief [in session 2] has been very helpful, especially knowing that what I’m experiencing is somewhat ‘normal’ for this type of loss. I also appreciate the candid nature of those that are interviewed on the video and how much I can relate to their stories.”

“Relating to their stories” is a theme repeated by group members as they talk about the value of being with other people who are going through the same thing and understand what they are talking about. The second half of every session is about processing the content of the video, but even more than that, it is an opportunity for participants to pursue their recovery by verbalizing what they are going through and feeling the support and understanding of people who are in the same boat.

“This program works,” said Renshaw, “because it provides a safe place of refuge where people can talk and not be put down. That’s why confidentiality is so important. Participants need to feel safe and not used. Often I have to tell myself to shut up and allow God to work through the members of the group who are supporting each other. I have to stay out of the way.”

Renshaw also believes the program works because it provides participants with a structure. He drew the analogy of a cast for a broken bone. “When you break your ankle,” he said, “the cast the doctor puts on your ankle provides protection and structure so that healing can take place. The workbook we use, the daily Bible readings, and the 13 sessions provide a structure in which emotional and spiritual healing can happen.”

DivorceCare is unapologetically Christian. It is not heavy-handed about its presentation of the Gospel, but in every session it repeats its core belief that full healing cannot take place without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Renshaw pointed out that the last session in the program includes an opportunity for participants to accept Christ as their savior. He added that most people don’t object to the focus of the last session because usually people who are uncomfortable with the religious component have left the program long before the final session.

Melissa put her reaction to the religious element this way: “I have felt very distant from God for the past year, so I’ve been wary of some of the religious nature of the content. It seems that the format is to present information pretty straightforward and then at the end, bring in the elements of Jesus Christ. I have a sense that by the end of the 13-week series, some of my hesitancy regarding God may soften.”

When asked if she had anything to say to readers, she responded, “That you may never believe it could happen to you, but if it does, to reach out to a support group for help. Also if any friends are going through a divorce, they most likely really need for you to reach out to them because they may be feeling so outside of themselves that they can’t reach out to you.

“And if you do reach out, to just listen. Don’t ask about the details. Don’t judge. Don’t throw Christian rhetoric at them. Just listen and offer grace.”

The next 13-week series will begin on May 17. For information, call Bruce Renshaw at 488-8901 or First Baptist Church at 848-4070.

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