Sunday 22 August 2021

Life is Messy - Matthew Kelly

Life Is Messy
Matthew Kelly
Blue Sparrow Publishing 
Dynamic Catholic
ISBN 9781635822007
eISBN 9781635822014

Wow! I have read many books and listened to several talks from Matthew Kelly over the years. And this is the most raw, open, transparent, and likely important work of his to date! Over the last 7 years I have read books by Matthew Kelly 30 times, and that does not count some of his children’s books that have been read many times over.  I am always excited when a new volume from Matthew is coming out, and eagerly await its release. This is one of those books that every Catholic, every Christian, any person could benefit from reading. It is an excellent read, and as soon as I finished it, I put but in my 'to be read pile'. And the next day using adaptive technology I listened to it a second time with my 13 year old son. It will be a book I know I will return to again. But that does not mean it is an easy read. This is a book we will need to think about, reflect on, and work to process in our own lives. Matthew shares deeply about his own hurts, betrayals, fears, and depression. He does so without naming names or circumstances but at times the read is incredibly raw and visceral. But it is so worth the read.

The description of this volume is:

“Life is messy.
It isn't a color-within-the-lines exercise.
It's a wild and outrageous invitation
full of uncertain outcomes.
The mess of life is both inevitable and unexpected.
It is filled with delightful mysteries
and frustrating predicaments.
In our disposable culture,
we throw broken things away.
So, what will we do with broken people,
broken relationships, broken institutions, broken families,
and of course, our very own broken selves?
We are all broken and wounded.
This book is about putting our lives back together,
and allowing ourselves to be put back together,
when life doesn't turn out as we expected it to.
Based on his own heart-wrenching personal journals,
Matthew Kelly shares how the worst three years of his life
affected him, by exploring this question:
Can someone who has been broken be healed
and become more beautiful and more lovable
than ever before?
The answer will fill you with hope.
There has never been a more urgent need
for us to attend to what is happening within us.
This is quite simply
the right book at the right time.”

The chapters in this book are:

The human dilemma.
A more beautiful question.
The worst year of my life.
What did I do wrong?
When your reality becomes a nightmare.
Will the hurt ever stop?
Wait it out.
When nothing makes sense.
Dante's truth.
The dark night of the soul.
Why is life so messy?
Have that conversation.
When evil comes to visit.
Life can change in a single moment.
Slow down.
The normalization of evil.
Closer than you think.
If I had a dollar for every time . . .
The great rehumanization.
Ambassadors of hope.
Thoughtless, careless, and reckless.
Future turmoil.
Life is difficult.
Turning to comfort.
Cherish the ordinary.
Just for the joy of it.
Everyone is fighting a hard battle.
Beautiful kindness.
Roses and people.
Mourning the life that could have been.
The past.
Luck is a factor.
Getting unstuck.
A new path.
The mystery of you.
The forgotten obligation.
An intimate question.
Take an inventory.
Illusions and reality.
The most important conversation.
The way forward.
Move toward the light.
One choice at a time.
Three good reasons to do anything.
The four absolutes.
A personal philosophy.
The wisdom of simplicity.
How does life get so complicated?
Learn to say no.
The main threat to your wholeness.
A spiritual experience.
Three appointments.
Speak up.
A bad bargain.
Change something.
When change seems too daunting.
The basics.
Gently down the stream.
Becoming real.
Run toward yourself.
The guy in the glass.
Character is destiny.
Alignment issues.
Measuring your life.
Peace, serenity, and tranquility.
The central question.
The mountaintop.
The good life.

In some ways this book is very different than anything else from Kelly that I have read. It has far more emotion. You can almost feel his pain and ache at times in the book. I believe we see far more of Kelly in this work. But in other ways it is a continuation of his other works, both his business books and his Catholic books. But the rawness of this book will make it hard for some readers, and others will appreciate and benefit from that same feature. The third section in this work called “Inadequate” begins with these words:

“These pages were born out of three years of excruciating suffering. There are no words for what I experienced. Even words dripping with meaning leave so much unsaid. But words are all I have. They are my craft. I am a wordsmith, a smithy of words, and so, I have done the best I know how.

The easiest thing would have been not to write about this period of my life. I was tempted to set aside the journals that much of this content was drawn from and never revisit them. But they kept calling to me, so it is my hope that this whole mess will serve you in some way that is unknowable to me.”

That contributes to the rawness in the text, but also the extreme realness! Further on in the same chapter he states:

“This isn’t like other books I have written. It’s messy. I haven’t tried to smooth out the rough edges. It doesn’t start and end neatly. There are no chapters or parts. Each section is unto itself. I wrote them for myself, at different times in different places, never expecting that anyone else would read them. You will be able to tell which parts were written during my times of trauma, which were written to help me move forward, and which are reflecting on those times in my life. I have made no effort to hide that. Though I have tried to organize them loosely into a journey for you, and I have adjusted the original journal language in most parts to address the reader. Some of the transitions from one section to the next are rough. In my journals, those rough transitions wake me up and force me to pay attention when I re-read them, so I have decided to keep them.”

Matthew shares that each year between Thanksgiving (Late November for Americans) and Christmas he would work through some exercises to look back over the last year and look ahead to the next. He says:

“For decades I had an extraordinary run—magical, really. One year had been better than the other, and the next year better than that. The answer to the question year after year was a resounding YES! Until a few years ago, when the answer was NO! I didn’t have to think about it. It was clear. It wasn’t even close. The answer was unequivocally no. This was unchartered territory. It was the first time in my life this had happened. It wasn’t just that the past year had failed to outshine the year prior. It had been the worst year of my life.”

And then it happened again, and again, and again. And in part this book grew out of those dry years. HE also shares about have three unrelated cases of cancer. He went through the ringer physically, emotionally and spiritually. And yet he kept putting one foot in front of the other. That in part is the witness of this book. It is a witness to heart, to courage, to change, and to living the best version of yourself. Matthew says:

“But nobody gave me cancer. It just happened. It was just part of life. There was nobody to blame, no one to harbor anger and resentment toward. That makes it easier. 

It’s when a person intentionally hurts you, changes your life in an instant, that you face the darkest parts of yourself. It’s when a group of people decide to harm you, collectively or one at a time, that your faith in humanity is tested.”

And tested he was, and tested we will be. The section of the book that is very moving and motivational at the same time is when Kelly expounds on the Japanese art form of Kintsugi. Matthew tells us that:

“The Japanese have a beautiful artform called Kintsugi. It is a form of ceramics, and I have been meditating on it for the past several years. In our disposable culture, if we break a vase or a bowl, we throw it away and buy a new one. This simple act allows us to maintain the illusion that life is not messy. It plays into our delusion of perfection. But life is messy, perfect is a myth, and the wisdom of the Japanese art of Kintsugi has much to teach us.

When a vase or bowl or cup is broken, artists gather up the broken pieces and glue them back together. Though it is how they put them back together that is steeped in wisdom and beauty. They mix gold dust with the glue. They don’t try to hide the cracks. They own them, honor them, even accentuate them by making them golden. They celebrate the cracks as part of their story.

This is a beautiful lesson. They don’t pretend the vase was never broken. They don’t pretend that life is not messy. They don’t pretend they are not broken. When we pretend to be someone other than who we are, our true self hides in fear and shame; the fear of being discovered and the shame of not being enough.”

And one of the lessons Kelly took from this is that:

“The most beautiful and surprising lesson the Kintsugi artform teaches us is this: We are each other’s wounded healers. We each possess the gold dust needed to glue other people back together, making them more beautiful and loveable than ever. Our love, connection, acceptance, generosity, community, and kindness are that gold dust. This is astoundingly profound.”

He also states early in the book:

“Someone who has been broken and healed can be more beautiful, and more loved, than ever before. Embracing this truth is liberating. But it is easier to do once we realize it’s okay to be broken. It’s normal, in fact— part of the human condition. Once we embrace this truth, we are on the path of hope. When we reject it, we are on the road to despair.”

And at the end of the book he says:

“There is no secret to the good life. It isn’t a mystery. No exceptional talent is required. It isn’t only for the rich and famous. It is available to everyone, everywhere, at all times.

What is the essential ingredient of the good life? Goodness itself. The secret to the so-called good life has always been right before our very eyes. If you wish to live the good life, fill your life with goodness. Fill your life with love, kindness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

Take risks with your goodness. Test the limits of your goodness. Don’t just love, astonish people with your love. Don’t just dabble in generosity, live a life of staggering generosity.

How would your life change if your only goal was to do as much good as possible? Let’s find out. Don’t let this question remain unanswered. Celebrate goodness every chance you get.”

Don’t waste your change do the good, be the good. Become the best version of yourself. I know some people who have no use for Matthew Kelly’s books, and even others who think they are trite and even worse. I have even had readers ask me with all I read and review why I would pick up and read Kelly’s books. My answer is always twofold; first I have benefited from everything of his I have read or listened to. Second his books meet people where they are. We are not all theologians or academics. This book can be read by anyone and I believe they would benefit from it. But Christians and Catholics because of our world views can take it to a deeper level. 

I want to conclude with two points, first circling back to my son who was mentioned at the beginning of the review. He has been through much in his 13 years, much more than I have in my 50. He has been bullied at school, taunted teased, threatened, and physically harmed. He also has Neurofibromatosis and had scoliosis. Less than a year ago he has surgery and his spine was straightened from over 90 degrees of curvature in the primary curve to under 5 for the whole spine. A miracle. The Doctor was hoping to get it to 30 and fuse it there. One of his concerns before surgery was that he would not be able to altar serve for over a year after the surgery. He got clearance 4 months out. He loves reading and listening to Matthew Kelly books with me. He asked me to put a copy on his tablet so he could read it again. There was much he related to. His surgery, his being hurt. His having hope. 

And second Matthew Kelly speaks often about his top 20. His top ten he has shared often but the others change from time to time. A few years ago I was pressed to come up with me Top Ten Catholic Books, plus a few other great reads! Since coming up with that list I have added 5 titles to it, this is the fifth! 

This is an excellent read and I highly recommend it! It is one of Kelly’s!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Matthew Kelly:
I Know Jesus
The Long View
Decision Point: The Workbook
Decision Point: The Leader Guide
The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic
The One Thing
Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
Why Am I Here?
Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness
Perfectly Yourself Discovering God's Dream For You
Building Better Families: A Practical Guide to Raising Amazing Children
The Dream Manager
The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Art of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved
The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose
Building Better Families - 5 Practical Ways to Build Family Spirituality
The Book of Courage
The Shepherd: A Modern Parable about Our Search for Happiness
Mustard Is Persecution, Matthew Kelly Foundation
A Call to Joy - Living in the Presence of God
The Rhythm of Life: An Antidote For Our Busy Age
Words from God
Resisting Happiness
The Narrow Path
Our Father
The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity
Why I Love Being Catholic
Good Night, Jesus
In a world where you can be anything ...

Beautiful ... Series:

Rediscover Books by Matthew Kelly:
Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose
Rediscover Advent
Rediscover Lent
Rediscover Jesus: An Invitation
Rediscover the Rosary: The Modern Power of an Ancient Prayer
Rediscover the Saints

Audio by Matthew Kelly from Lighthouse Media:
Becoming The Best Version Of Yourself
The Best Way To Live
Don't Just Try, Train
Faith At Work & The Holy Moment
The Four Signs Of A Dynamic Catholic - Excerpt
The Jesus Question
My Spiritual Journey
Our Lives Change When Our Habits Change
Raising Amazing Children
The Seven Levels Of Intimacy
The Seven Pillars Of Catholic Spirituality


MamaK said...

Hi - great points in general but especially about why you read his stuff. Thanks for the reminder.

Also- you mentioned you listened to the book with your son with adaptive technology. Could you let me know a little more about that? for my brother and for parishioners who are hard of hearing- we can't always get audio versions of books.

Thanks! Kristi

Steven R. McEvoy said...

Mama K

On iOS and Android devices you can turn on accessability features. The one I use is Screen Speak. iOS settings, Accessability, Spoken Content, Turn on Screen Speak. Swiping 2 fingers down on the scree will start to read what is on screen. In Kindle and some other book apps, will flip page and keep reading.