The Mess

The Place Where Shame Collides With Grace

Holi festival

Photo Credit: allison_b216 via Compfight cc

Welcome to The Mess.

I hope The Mess will be a space where we can, with timid-trembling joy, declare:

“Life is messy.” It’s blood-sweat-and-tears messy. It’s anxiety and sadness and embarrassment messy. It’s tragic and unpredictable. And absolutely beautiful. Not despite the mess, but because of the mess.

“We are messy.” We are messy creatures living this messy life. We’re fragile and broken and confused. We are the opposite of perfect—we are a perfect mess. Quirks and failures and insecurities and triumphs and blissful moments and all. We are a glorious mess.

“The problem is not mess; the problem is shame.” We’ve been trained to be ashamed of our mess. We have been lied to about our brokenness. We have been convinced it makes us unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is the belief that what is inside of us is not good enough. It’s the belief that if people really knew us we would be deemed unlovable, unacceptable, worthy only of rejection, or worse, disinterest. Shame is a lie we swallowed before we could discern reality from fiction. So it feels real. But it just isn’t

“We are declaring war on shame.” Here at The Mess, we have the opportunity to embrace the messy places in our lives and in our selves as a battleground. We have a choice: to hide our mess and create the very secrecy upon which shame thrives, or to embrace our mess and make ourselves available to grace. 

“Only grace has the power to heal our shame.” Harboring the belief that what is inside of us is not good enough, we begin to search outside of us for substitute sources of worth, such as status, affluence, power, certainty, and victory. But these proxies for worth are all dead ends. We become addicted to them and our sense of worth is further diminished. The only genuine weapon against shame is grace. Because grace is the assurance we are good enough, even in the midst of our mess and brokenness. To be clear, grace does not make us worthy—rather, it testifies to the worth already existing within each of us. Grace is not an idea or an object to be obtained. Grace is an on-going event, created in relationship. It cannot be possessed, it can only be experienced.

“Shameless living is a rebellion.” People who have embraced the mess—shameless people—start a lot of trouble in this world. They can’t be controlled or dominated with fear and shame. So they are absolutely free to love gracefully and to live fully with a reckless abandon. And this makes the shameless people the true revolutionaries. How about you? Want to join the freedom of a glorious, messy revolution?

An Image of Grace

A friend and follower of the blog introduced me to his culture’s festival, Holi. It is a Spring festival celebrating new beginnings. During the joyous festival, social norms are dissolved and the gaps between age, gender, status, and caste are bridged. In a word, it’s a mess. And it’s absolutely beautiful. I think it makes for a breathtaking image of grace raining down upon us. Enjoy.

[If you are viewing this somewhere besides UnTangled and the video does not appear, click here to go to The Mess webpage.]

My Blog Posts Related to Mess, Shame, and Grace

The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown is a leading authority on shame and increasing shame resilience via courageous vulnerability.

To visit Brene Brown’s blog, click here.

For additional resources or to purchase her book, Daring Greatly, click on the badge below:

I Am Daring Greatly

To view her 2010 Tedx Talk, click on the video below:


[If you are viewing this somewhere besides UnTangled and the video does not appear, click here to go to The Mess webpage.]

The Hall of Shame

This is the place where your voice is heard and echoed. The Hall of Shame will consist of 100% reader contributions. Tell me/us what inspires you in the war against shame—quotes, music, videos, blog posts, books, you name it—and I will post select items here. 

“Shame” by Ze Frank (2/20/13)


“To This Day Project” by Shane Koyczan (3/3/13)

A blog post submitted by Carrie:

“Shame is a bully and Grace is a shield.” Click here for the full post.

A quote submitted by MofE:

“We should have indulgence with our soul and its infirmities and imperfections, and have patience with its defects.” ~St. Seraphim

Join the Conversation!

Do you have thoughts to share about shame and grace? Have you come across resources that have been healing for you? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below. Just remember, we aren’t healed by the idea of grace—our shame is healed by the experience of grace. So, if you are speaking of grace but not doing so gracefully, you are robbing grace of its power and giving it a bad name. Let’s be graceful, and let’s start a rebellion.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Laura

    I am so grateful for this place! I am a fan or Brene Brown and have benefited both personally and professionally from her work on vulnerability and shame. Your words often echo what I hear her say, and reinforce my committment to recognizing and naming my shame, and trying my hardest not to be a shame trigger for other individuals. This is a wonderful idea and I look forward to being in community with other messy people!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Laura, Thank you so much for sharing. And you make such an important point: only once we have come to deeply understand our own shame can we comprehend the ways we trigger shame in others. Turns out working through our own pain isn’t selfish after all; it paves the way for us to love well! Welcome to The Mess. If you notice any shame triggers here, don’t be afraid to let me/us know.

  • MofE
    • drkellyflanagan

      This is fantastic! I’m about to create a section on The Mess entitled “The Hall of Shame.” It will consist of 100% reader contributions. This will be the first entry. Thank you!

  • Catharine Phillips

    In my faith tradition it is Lent. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and an ash smudge on the forehead. Remember that you are dust (we say). Lent is messy, rather like Holi, only not in technicolor. The word Lent means spring. It seems a fitting time for the uncovering of shame, the emergence of grace.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for this, Catharine. I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I may have a post about it coming sometime soon.

  • Jennifer Newell

    It seems as if each step we take to shine the light on our shame, the less power it has on our life.

  • Dave Wright

    Hi Kelly,
    Don’t know. If you remember my struggle with this topic, but about 2 weeks ago, I had a God moment on the way to work. That’s where God intentionally had me hear something and had it sink in. But anyway, it was about the Apostle Paul and how he was forgiven because the things he did were in ignorance and not knowing God. And that all in the past is gone. I’m not who I was back then because now I know what I’m doing and God knows. He always knew, but wiped my slate clean. Again. Thanks for the blog!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for sharing this, Dave. One of the things I love about Paul is that, in many ways, he was the same person before and after his convergence–a complete zealot, no holds barred, going after it no matter what it takes. The thing that changed was his Love, and that changed everything.

  • Denise W. Barreto

    Glad I stumbled here – I always say it is my BRAND to get messy with folks – it’s what sets me apart in my life and my new business. Love, love it. Thanks Dr. Flanagan – I’m a new fan!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad you stumbled here to, Denise! I’ll value your input. Don’t hesitate to put your BRAND on this place!

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  • MofE

    I just wanted to add this: “We should have indulgence with our soul and its infirmities and imperfections, and have patience with its defects.” ~St. Seraphim

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for this! First chance I get, it goes up on the Hall.

  • Athanasia

    Dear Dr. Kelly,

    The video “To This Day Project” has been transformative for me, helping me remember and understand the bullying I experienced in school at ages 12-13 was, in effect, at a certain level sexual molestation. It, along with Brene Brown’s TED Talk, has fueled my courage to examine and reflect on the many issues I have with some deeply personal things. My husband and I are reading Brene’s book, as well as one by Rabbi Shumley Boteach, together. Our goal is to be Wholehearted and we are forging the path together.

    Glory to God for all things! Say a little prayer for us if you’ve a moment to do so.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Good for you guys! Such courage. We need more couples dealing with this together. And thank you for the recommendation of Rabbi Boteach. A new name to me, but I’ll check it out!