Book Review: “Life is Messy” by Matthew Kelly

Reviewed by Joyce Voss

Over the holidays the book, LIFE IS MESSY, was given out in many dioceses in the country. I received my copy from a Wisconsin church near Milwaukee while visiting family at Christmas. Upon my return to St. Elizabeth Seton, I found that it was being given out here, too. In case the book is still sitting on a shelf, here is a little background that might spark your interest in reading it.

Kelly was born in Sydney, Australia, and has been writing since 1993. As a motivational speaker he has traveled to more than 50 countries and his books have been published in 25 languages. Born into a Catholic family of eight boys, religion just did not take for him. Finding a spiritual path came later.

Kelly has provided the reader with insights into life choices based on living the worst three years of his life. A reader can learn a lot from his struggles. It is not preachy. He tells us that “MESS” is part of being human.

Writing has been a lifesaver for Kelly. Up to the time of the worst three years, life had been excellent, each year getting better than the last. Then everything broke loose. He says “In that third year I saw the worst of many people. In just twelve short months, I was deceived and betrayed by so many people, in so many ways, that I became at times stunned, enraged, disoriented, and depressed.” He became lost. It was a crisis. Or, maybe, it was an opportunity.

This small book does not follow a traditional structure. Being small, one is tempted to just read it right through, but I think you miss a lot if you do. Each section poses questions and makes you think about your own life. He touches on such topics as the desensitizing of the existence of evil, avoiding feelings, neglecting kindness, wisdom of simplicity, forgiveness, social media, obligations to self and so much more. Shame, he states, allows us to stay stuck. It is okay to feel stuck, but we cannot remain there. We were created to grow. “People will travel great distances to see the wonders of this world, while all the time, the marvel of self goes unnoticed, unappreciated, unexplored and underdeveloped.”

In the last portion of the book, the author talks about the development and refinement of CHARACTER. Some find it hard to define character in our modern world. Kelly connects character with virtue. We know it when we see it. “Character is not generic, boring, rule-abiding, cookie-cutter thing. It is personal, dynamic; it manifests differently and beautifully in every person.”

Brokenness is something we all experience in life. We throw away many broken things, but certainly not broken people. Recovery from brokenness can make us more empathetic to help others and to help ourselves when brokenness visits again.

There is much food for thought in this small volume. Take a taste, savor the thoughts, feel your mind and heart expand and come finally to a new understanding of the human condition. Life is messy!

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