The Day I Exploded

The room grew instantaneously, but uneasily still. Trembling, I turned my back on my students to hide the tears that sprung in my eyes. What had I just done?

I was several months into my first year of teaching.  Fresh out of college, I had eagerly taken on this position and had looked forward to having a class of my own. But, now, just a few months in, I found my enthusiasm wane. My class of thirty was unlike any I had experienced before, and I felt ill equipped to meet the many needs that walked through my door each morning. 

Two of my third grade students did not know their letters of the alphabet. Though tested, neither one qualified for learning support. I was told they both just had really low IQs and to do my best with them. I had another student that had received a diagnosis of ADHD prior to the start of the school year. Her medication for this diagnosis left her lethargic and unable to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Though I questioned the side effects of this medication, my concerns were brushed aside, and I was again encouraged to just do my best. I had another student who would repeatedly leave the temporary trailer where our class was held and climb onto its roof. The school nurse was the only one who could coax him down with the promise of a banana and some time to lie down in her office. Another student within my class would antagonize one of the only two white girls in the class. Most recesses found the two of them engaged in a battle of fists and racial slurs. These students represented just a small number of the challenges that I faced every day in the classroom.  Challenges that left me feeling frustrated and defeated.

And on one particular day, those feelings of frustration and defeat overwhelmed me. My efforts that day to teach were met with resistance in the forms of students talking above me, throwing things at one another, and refusing to do as instructed. Frustration and defeat swelled within me and so did anger. As one more paper ball flew through the air, something within me broke.  I moved towards the empty desk that sat at the front of the room, picked it up, and slammed it to the floor. My actions were met with silence. And, in that silence, regret instantly washed over me. 

Our emotions . . . they are a gift from our Creator. He created us with the ability to feel deeply, to love richly, and to experience this beautiful life to its fullest. But, far too often, we allow our emotions to control our responses, direct our words, our actions, and how we communicate with others around us. Far too often, we give the negative emotions that rise within us far more power they deserve. We give them the power to steer us away from the sacred moments God has for us each day. That moment in my classroom . . . it was far from sacred. 

But, how do we remain calm in difficult circumstances or in situations that are out of our control? It starts by understanding our reaction tendencies. In her book, Unglued, Lysa Terkeurst identifies four main Reaction Types that people have when they face difficult circumstances or situations that are out of their control. The purpose of understanding the different reaction types is not to place another label on ourselves, but to help us learn how to react more calmly. Lysa says, “Condemnation defeats us. Conviction unlocks the greatest potential for change.” Understanding how we tend to react is the first step to making positive change.

There are four main Reaction Types:Exploders that Blame Others, Exploders that Shame Themselves, Stuffers that Build Barriers, and Stuffers that Collect Retaliation Rocks. If you’re like me, you’ll find that your reaction type is very dependent on not just the circumstances you face, but who else is involved in those circumstances. Does this situation that feels so out of control involve your spouse, your kids, a family member, your boss, a friend? Your reactions may vary depending on not only what is happening around you, but those who are involved. 

Think for a moment about one person that tends to get your emotions spiraling in a downward  trend. Ask yourself how you process your frustration towards this person. Are you more apt to express that frustration through your words? If so, you are likely an external processor. If you tend to pull in your feelings of frustration and think about whether or not to address them, you are more likely to be an internal processor. When it comes to my kids, I’m a complete external processor. If mama isn’t happy with their behavior, they hear about it. But, when it comes to my husband, I’m an internal processor. I avoid conflict with him whenever possible and would rather sit and let my frustrations stew a bit then address them. What about you? Are you more of an external processor or an internal processor?

Now, think about how you handle any conflict you have with this person. Do you tend to deal with the issue at hand or do you just pretend that everything is just fine? If you deal with the issue and talk about it,  you’re an external expresser. If you tend to pretend that everything is fine, you’re an internal suppressor. Going back to the example of my kids. When I am in conflict with them, I am a total external expresser. We talk about the issue at hand. Actually, it’s more that I’m the one who does most of the talking and they do they listening. With my husband however, I’m completely an internal suppressor. I’d rather pretend things are fine than risk the confrontation. What about you? Are you more of an external expresser or an internal suppressor?

Our reaction types are identified by how we process our circumstances, externally or internally, and how we move forward and handle our circumstances, expressing or suppressing. Lysa Tekeurst identifies those that are external expressers whether they are internal or external processors as Exploders. Exploders are people who can’t keep their emotions in and push them outwardly either loudly or very quietly. Exploders use a raised voice,  stern words, harsh looks, or explosive actions, like slamming a desk on the floor, to express their negative emotions.  Once the emotion is out, exploders often feel deep regret. If they are an internal processor, they blame themselves for their outburst. If they are an external processor, they push away any regret they may feel by blaming others.

On the other side, we have our internal suppressors, otherwise known as our Stuffers. Stuffers are those who push their emotions inward and lock their feelings inside. They stuff to avoid conflict, to protect themselves from further hurt, or to wallow in their hurt. If we’re honest, haven’t we all done some wallowing at one point or another? Haven’t we all had times when we’ve pulled our hurt in, dwelled on it, maybe even pampered it for a bit? Have we ever lingered in the hurt because we felt we deserved it or because of the attention it drew to ourselves? Sometimes a Stuffer would rather wallow in the hurt than process it and release it.  Lysa uses the example of an oyster. Just as an oyster repeatedly coats a grain of sand that has worked its way in, Stuffers will take a small hurt and repeatedly coat it with more hurt. But, unlike the pearl formed by the oyster, the Stuffer is left with a hard rock. This rock is then used by internal processors to build barriers or if an external processor, to retaliate against others.

Exploders and Stuffers. If we’re honest, haven’t we been both? And if we’re still being honest, do we have doubts that we will ever change? The answer is yes, we do doubt. But, let me tell you this. Change is possible. Lysa says, “In processing (our) reactions, soul integrity is the heart of what we’re after. Soul integrity is honesty that’s godly. It brings the passion of the exploder and the peacemaking of the stuffer under the authority of Jesus where honesty and godliness embrace and balance each other.” Under the authority of Jesus is where honesty and godliness can embrace and balance each other. Think about that for a moment. 

When we explode, we’re being honest with how we are feeling, yes? But, where is the godliness in our words and in our actions? When we stuff, our words and actions may very well come across as peaceful, but are we being honest with our feelings? This balance, or as Lysa calls it, soul integrity . . . .it’s what we are after. It’s honest. It’s wise. And it comes as we daily make the decision to submit our thoughts, our emotions, our words, our actions to Jesus. It comes as we ask our Father to help us process our circumstances through His eyes that see the whole picture. Not just our eyes which only see that which is right in front of us.

The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way (the battle for our thoughts, the battle for our minds, the battle for how we reaction in difficult circumstances) —never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” 

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (MSG)

Soul integrity requires a shift. A shift of our perspective. A shift away from how the world tells us to think, to speak, to act. A shift towards that which is holy and sacred. A shift towards wise living. Part of living wisely is loving others well. 

“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” 

James 3:16-18 (MSG)

Soul Integrity. It’s honest and it’s wise. It’s treating others with dignity and honor. It’s being gentle. Being reasonable. Loving well. And it’s something that we need to learn. Something that needs to be practiced. Something that we can do with the strength of God’s Spirit living within us.

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 1 Feb. 2021.

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.

Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. https://www.ungluedbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Unglued-AssessmentAndGuide.pdf. Accessed 1 Feb. 2021.

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