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The Coat Closet that Was Killing Oneness

john trent marriage Feb 03, 2020

I'm a counselor. And at times, I occasionally think, “I’ve seen it all.” That is until the next couple sits down in front of me. In this case (with the identities masked and permission granted), it was two people who seemed to be poster children for doing marriage right. Both came from Christian homes. Both had been committed to each other since their courtship. Now they had almost reached fifteen years of marriage. They were faithful in church attendance. He never missed a men’s group meeting. She was in both a Mom’s group to pray for the kids and her own bible study group.

No problems! Right?

Sure, there were the “normal” differences that every couple has to navigate. But the “normals” weren’t what almost destroyed their marriage.

It was that coat closet that nearly took them out.

It started when this couple “answered the call” one Sunday for people to become “homegroup leaders” at their church. Their group became a smashing success, judged both by attendance and how many people kept coming back to their group. Good discussion topics. Good time of pulling everyone together. Except for what happened, from the very first meeting, right at the end of their time together.

At the close of their very first meeting, the husband got up and headed to the oversized hall closet. They live in a cold-weather state. And when the meeting ended, he was prepared to hand out coats (and in some cases, snow boots) as people got ready to head home. He didn’t rush anyone out. It just became his place to stand and talk with people, thank them for coming, and then help them get on their coat.

But from the first time he did this, it left his wife with a very awkward moment to navigate. They’d never talked about it. But she expected him – as the head of their home and spiritual leader – to close the group in prayer. Maybe even pray a “blessing” over them as they headed out. To do something – not just get up and head to the closet. But that became his post – and she very uncomfortably took over a role that she felt was all wrong for her, and him.

Of course, you’re probably reading this and thinking how antiquated and perhaps even unbiblical such a perspective is today. After all, who cares who closes a small group in prayer in “most” churches and groups today? And frankly, if you weren’t very alert, you would have thought everything was fine with this husband and wife. To everyone else, they were a model of doing life and ministry together.

But in her heart-of-hearts – he wasn’t exercising hospitality (or his Golden Retriever gifts of serving). He was stepping away from the group AND her by side-stepping his spiritual responsibility!

When he went to his post at the closet at the next meeting, and the next, she began stepping away from him. First, it was emotional. Then physically. Then the long silences. Then even working to avoid brushing up against each other when they did the dishes.

Now, let’s lean into this story for a moment.

For each of us, we have a “frame” we look at by which we “see” other people. Ken Gire, in his excellent book, “Windows of the Soul,” talks about how we tend to stand and look at someone from the outside. Almost like we’re standing outside their house. Picture being out on the street, looking in through the windows of your home. But too often we don’t move closer. Look deeper. Actually knock on the door, walk in and explore what’s actually going on inside.

The wife certainly did do this. From her “frame” of reference – what her husband was doing was a slap in the spiritual face of every person in that group – including her. It was like he would desert the ship right at the end of the meeting. At the key time when, to her, he should have stepped up – he stepped away. To her, that’s NOT what spiritual leaders did. Forget coats! Don’t see hospitality. What about the more important thing of prayer or some kind of benediction?

In a few short months, she moved from this being an issue, to her tearing him down as a person (in her mind) to her doing what she would have once thought was unthinkable, questioning the relationship. (Again, all in her mind and unprocessed with him). If we’re having this kind of issues, and you’re this kind of person, then what in the world am I doing in this relationship?”

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about him. Which is because he isn’t the kind of person to say much. Especially about problems. He was a mental – not a verbal processor. Maybe the problems would just go away that he’s sensed with his wife. It would have been wrong to think he wasn’t thinking about what was happening. But he didn’t talk about it. An had no clue it had had anything to do with their closet. He thought it had everything to do with a charismatic and charming man in their group. The man was there every week. He was married. A Believer. Just a super friendly guy in their church who had been to seminary, but then gone into the business world instead of full-time ministry.

What this husband was watching (out of the corner of his eye from near the closet) was how much time this man and his wife were spending talking after the meeting had closed. How his wife had started calling on this man to close every meeting in prayer instead of her doing it herself. (He thought she was great at small groups and would love to close everything out. His way of “encouraging” her that was killing things for him).

Let’s fast forward to the two things that finally broke through and changed so much for them. The first was traumatic. It happened the night the wife of the “charismatic” man confronted his wife point-blank, telling her to quit spending so much time talking with her husband after the meeting ended. And to quit standing so close to him when they did talk.

It was like scales falling off. The wife was shocked and defensive. But like a wave, her “pretense” of just being interested in “spiritual” topics drenched and startled her awake. She had convinced herself that her “spiritual” conversations weren’t based on unhealthy attraction. She was just hoping that this man’s natural talents/gifts would somehow “rub off” on her own husband’s lack of spiritual leadership skills. Watching this man lead would school him. Her spending time a “short” time with him was helping their group and relationship. But it wasn’t. And her being confronted by that man’s wife shook her so deeply, it’s brought them into my office.

As their story unfolded, It was a question I always ask couples,

“So when you are arguing or feeling angry and disappointed in each other – where are you standing right then?” That, by God’s grace, caused the closet to come up. And all the hurt and pain to begin to spill out.

But what really blew up (metaphorically of course) the coat closet as something Satan was using to move them apart, was the two of them digging deeply into an unexplored and misunderstood biblical word, “Oneness.”    

Yes, it starts in Genesis 2, with the two becoming “one.” But it was their digging deeply, biblically, into  what it really meant to be “ONE” in Christ and in their marriage, that began to change everything for them…”   

For a powerful look at oneness, leadership, unity, and diversity, look at the chapter by Darrel Bock and more in the new Moody Press book, “Marriage: It’s Foundations, Theology and Mission.” Dr. John Trent is one of the general editors.


Dr. John Trent is a best-selling, award-winning author and speaker, of books like The Two Sides of Love, the Language of Love, and The Blessing (which has sold over 2 million copies). He is the President and Founder of StrongFamilies, a 501c3 he runs with his oldest daughter. StrongFamilies is dedicated to helping others end loneliness and create genuine attachment through The Blessing.

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