“Way to be a party pooper.” Her words were unexpected, and they cut deep. What was I doing? I didn’t belong here.
Earlier that morning, I had rustled up the courage to leave the house and try out a local mom group. My husband and I had moved to town just a few short months ago with our young son. We left behind a group of friends that had become like family to us. We had all been walking through the same season of life together, and though we lived closer to family with this move, I found that I desperately missed those friendships. So, it was with a hopeful heart and a bundle of nerves that I had walked into that meeting that morning. Introverted to a fault, I took a seat at an empty table in the back of the room and watched other moms enter. Their laughter, the smiles on their faces, and the comfort with which they greeted one another brought tears to my eyes. This was what I had been missing! This being part of a community, this was what I was longing for. But, by the end of the morning, as I drove home with tears streaming down my face, I told myself that I didn’t think this was the community God had for me. How did I go from being so hopeful to completely discouraged in the span of a couple of hours? Six words. Six words spoken over me when I didn’t participate in a game I felt uncomfortable joining. Six words. I replayed them over and over in my mind, and the hurt washed fresh over me again and again. And every time that hurt washed fresh, I stuffed it deeper within me.
Stuffing. It’s something that I can guarantee most of us have done at one time or another. We face difficult circumstances, circumstances beyond our control, or find ourselves in conflict with another person. Negative emotions rise within us and instead of pushing that emotion outward as an exploder would, it is pushed inward. A stuffer will lock her feelings inside and pretend that all is fine. Her words and actions may very well come across as peaceful, but she isn’t being honest with her feelings. She isn’t moving towards that soul integrity we’ve been talking about. That shift away from how the world tells us to think, to speak, and to act and processing our circumstances through God’s eyes. That morning, the rejection I felt . . . I didn’t choose to move towards soul integrity. I made the decision to stuff.
Lysa Terkeurst, author of Unglued says that we push our honest feelings about a situation or a person inward for various reasons. One reason is because we don’t feel safe enough to confront this person or situation. Maybe you feel vulnerable, fear the reaction of the other person with whom you have the conflict, or fear what might happen if you speak up. When we don’t feel safe or don’t feel safe with another person, it can feel better to stuff our feelings inside rather than risk the what might be if we share how we truly feel.
Another reason that we may stuff our feelings is because we don’t have the energy or time to get into a conflict. When my kids were younger, I found that when the clock read 4:00 PM, it seemed to magically communicate to each of them that it was time to begin a melt down. They would get whiney, they would hang on my legs, they would cry, or they would fight with one another. I don’t know about you, but at that point in the day, I didn’t have the energy to enter into conflict with my kids, and with dinner still needing prepared, I didn’t have the time either. Rather than honestly deal with the issues at hand, I stuffed my frustrations inside and gave in to whatever they wanted. You want a cookie before dinner? Go for it! I don’t care. You want to punch your brother in the head? Go for it! See what happens. You want held while I make dinner? Sure! I only need one hand to cut chicken. Sometimes, we stuff because we don’t have the energy or time for conflict.
Other reasons we stuff are because we don’t know how to address an issue, or we don’t want to seem hypersensitive. It was for these two reasons that I never confronted the mom about how she had hurt my feelings that morning. How do you go about confronting someone you’ve never talked to before? What do you even say? Was I just being super sensitive? Was it really a big deal? Sometimes it’s not knowing how to deal with a situation or the fear of being viewed as too sensitive that encourages us to stuff.
Other times, we stuff to protect ourselves from further hurt. Confrontation can bring resolution, but sometimes it brings rejection. Sometimes confrontation causes us to lose control or makes things worse than they were to begin with. To protect ourselves, we tell ourselves that if we stuff the hurt away where no one can see it, that everything will be all right. Everything will be fine.
And, sometimes we stuff because we think it’s what God expects of us. Stuffing is the Christian thing to do and we aren’t being very Jesus-like if we are truly honest about how we are feeling. We even have Scripture to back us up on this:
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
Matthew 5:9 (MSG)
“Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God.”
Hebrews 12:14 (MSG)
We stuff our thoughts; we stuff our feelings. We stuff because we don’t want to upset anyone, hurt anyone’s feelings, or look like anything outside of a perfect Jesus follower. Tell me I’m not the only one that does this.
Though there are many reasons as to why we choose to stuff our feelings, there is one thing that we all have in common. That is our hesitancy to process our hurts and then release them. It’s more comfortable to hold our hurts close and wallow in them. To “wallow” is to spend time experiencing something without making any effort to change your situation or feelings. Ouch! Read that one again! To wallow is to spend time experiencing something without making any effort to change your situation or feelings. Isn’t that what we do when we stuff our feelings inside? We are making the choice to linger in our hurt. We are making the choice to not move towards resolution. And as we wallow in our hurt, we are coating that hurt with even more hurt. It reminds me of a yarn winder. A yarn winder does exactly what you would expect. It takes skeins of yarn and winds them into nice, neat balls. When we stuff our hurts, we are like a yarn winder. We try to keep our hurts nice and tidy so they don’t get out of control and explode. But, what we’re really doing is taking each hurt and wrapping it around a previous hurt. We stuff a hurt in and wrap. We stuff and wrap. What we end up with is a ball . . . a ball of hurt. Then we take that ball and do one of two things with it. We use it to build walls to protect ourselves, or we hurl it at someone in retaliation.
Walls or barriers. A stuffer builds them to protect herself from further hurt. Maybe she is afraid to be honest with the one who has hurt her. Maybe she is tired of repeatedly being hurt or feels as though the relationship isn’t worth her efforts. A stuffer will build barriers with the hurt she is holding onto, avoid confrontation and pretend that everything is fine. But, what is the problem with building barriers?
First, the building of barriers is not coming from a place of honesty. Though everything may seem fine on the outside, on the inside you are building a wall of hurt against this person. And nine times out of ten, the other person has no idea what is happening. This wall of hurt you build creates distance between you and the other person and leads to confusion and a breakdown of communication. A breakdown of communication can end a relationship.
The other problem with building barriers is that we rarely build just one. Lysa Terkeurst says, “The destructive isolation that happens with stuffers who build barriers doesn’t limit itself to just one relationship in that person’s life. It becomes an entrenched pattern that impacts many relationships . . .” If you make it a habit of building barriers with others, it will lead you down a path of isolation. Friend, we were not created to be isolated from others. We were created to live in community with one another.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)
“One who separates himself seeks his own desire; He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”
Proverbs 18:1 (NASB)
Instead of building barriers, build boundaries. What’s the difference? While barriers are dishonest, boundaries are honest. Barriers cause a lack of communication and confusion. Boundaries clearly communicate limits. While barriers lead to isolation, boundaries lead to connection.
How do we set healthy boundaries? First, identify your feelings, your expectations for this person or situation, and what part of the situation is yours to own. What emotions does this person or situation trigger within you? What do you wish was different? Are the expectations you have for this person or situation realistic? What part of this situation are you responsible for? Take the time to honestly identify how you are feeling, your expectation, and what parts of the situation are yours to own.
Secondly, communicate your boundaries and consequences if those boundaries are not respected. In their book, Boundaries, Drs. Cloud and Townsend say, “Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t . . . Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me.” Identify what you can realistically give physically, mentally, emotional and spiritually in a situation. Ask yourself if what is being asked of you is reasonable or is adding unneeded stress. Identify your limits and then communicate those clearly. It’s also important to communicate what will happen your limits are not respected. For example:
- If you continue to miss the bus in the mornings, you will need to find another ride to school from someone other than me.
- If you continue to miss your deadlines for this project, I will give this opportunity to another employee.
- If you continue to throw your peas on the floor, I will take your plate from you and lunch will be over.
Identify your limits and communicate them clearly to others.
Now, just as there are stuffers that build barriers, there are also stuffers that collect retaliation rocks. A stuffer who collects rocks takes that hurt she’s holding onto and covers it with more hurt over and over again. But, instead of building a barrier with it, she places it in a pile of hurts that she’s been collecting over time. This pile grows bigger and so does her feelings of bitterness and resentment. She gets to the point where the pile of hurts is too big, or the bitterness and resentment feels as though it’s too much, and she explodes. She explodes and throws those rocks filled with hurt to hurt others, to shame others, or to prove she is right. The regret is often immediate. She bows her head in defeat, starts stuffing her hurt inside, and starts a new pile of rocks once again.
For those of us who stuff, what can we do to keep these hurts from building up within us? We have to learn how to process our hurt and release it. How do we process our emotions before they sow seeds of bitterness or resentment in our hearts? It starts with being honest. Honest with others, honest with ourselves, honest with God. Honesty is defined as being free from deception. It’s truthful, it’s sincere, and it’s frank. When we pretend that things are ok when in reality they are not, we are not being honest. When we lock our feelings in because we think they don’t matter or we believe if we ignore them that they will just go away, we are not being honest. Proverbs says,
“Truth spoken will stand forever, but lies survive only briefly.”
Proverbs 12:19 (VOICE)
Truth spoken will stand forever, but the lies, the pretending, and the ignoring . . . they don’t last. They may make us feel better for a brief period of time, but they don’t address the real issues at hand. We need to start being honest.
Secondly, we need to seek a fresh perspective. In this situation you are facing, are you trying to prove that you are right or are you trying to improve the relationship? Is this issue even going to matter in the long run? Are you trying to understand where the other person is coming from? Do you care enough about this person to fight for this relationship? What does God see in this situation? What would things look like if you look at your circumstances through His eyes?
Next, have realistic expectations. What expectations have you placed on this situation or this person? Are those expectations realistic at this point in time? Sometimes we find that the expectations we place on others are unrealistic for one of two reasons. Either they are unable to reach those expectations or they are unwilling. I think that second one hits the hardest. Unmet expectations leave us feeling disappointed and sow bitterness. Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic for the situation you are in or for the person with whom you’re in conflict.
The next thing to remember is that there is a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking. A stuffer genuinely desires for peace, but at what cost does it come? Peacekeeping avoids confrontation and is motivated by fear, distrust, or weariness. A peacekeeper will often sacrifice everything for peace. She will sacrifice honesty, integrity, her safety, her boundaries, her needs, all for the sake of keeping the peace.
Peacemaking, on the other hand is motivated by honesty, love, and commitment. It is making the choice not to avoid conflict or tension, but to work through what’s hard. It’s making the choice to have those hard conversations, to be honest with your boundaries, and to work towards reconciliation. Peacemaking is proactive, respectful, honest, and comes from a place of love. Romans tells us:
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18 (AMP)
Lastly, surrender. Every hurt, every tough situation, every hard conversation, every moment that we want to stuff our feelings and pretend everything is ok is an opportunity for surrender. It’s an opportunity to let go of the hurt we’ve been stuffing inside. Now, letting go of a hurt doesn’t mean that it never happened, that it didn’t cause pain, or that it must be forgotten. Letting go is walking into the freedom that is found when we relinquish our grip on our pain and place it in God’s hands. C.S. Lewis once said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” We have to let go of the past so God can move us forward into our future. Isaiah says,
“You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You—in both inclination and character], Because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation].”
Isaiah 26:3 (AMP)
Some days it seems so much easier to stuff our emotions inside instead of opening ourselves up to possible hurt or conflict. But, stuffed hurts only harden into rocks of bitterness and resentment that builds walls, breaks down communication, destroys relationships and leaves us feeling alone. Sweet friend, do you trust God enough to surrender your hurt to Him? Turn your gaze upwards and with open hands and an open heart, let go. Let go and trust the One who created you and loves you deeply. He has you.
Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.
Chery, Fritz. “Letting Go.” Bible Reasons. https://biblereasons.com/letting-go/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.
Moore, Beth. Living Beyond Yourself, Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit. Nashville. Lifeway. 2004.
Poirier, Gina. “How To Set Biblical Boundaries As a Christian.” Equipping Godly Women. https://equippinggodlywomen.com/community/christian-boundaries/. Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.
Terkeurst, Lysa. Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2012.