Why "Messy" Could Be the Best Word to Live By This Year

Last year, I traded in a New Year’s Resolution for a word. The word was “risky.” I wanted to take more risks, to be courageous, to act a little unreasonable. So, I started this blog and ended up in all sorts of wonderful places I never would have experienced without my Word to guide me.

But on December 14, 2012, I discovered my word for the year had changed.

It was the morning of my birthday and I was backing a minivan full of kids out of the garage to take them to school. It had been a good morning—sweet birthday wishes from the kids, followed by all of them piling into the van without a single fight.

Unfortunately, I forgot I had left our other car parked behind me in the driveway.

The screeching crunch and whiplash reminded me. 

I put the minivan in park and got out. My birthday joy had been replaced by a minivan with a dented rear bumper and a car with a crushed driver’s side door.

Hiding from Failure

Last week, an old friend posted a question to her Facebook wall. She asked, “What things keep you from pursuing the things you are most passionate about?” There were 37 comments and the most common response was, “Fear of failure.” 

Failure is messy: it reveals our weakness and limitations and brokenness. And we are afraid of having our imperfections exposed. We would prefer to cover over our cracks and maintain a seamless facade. Meanwhile, inside, we compare ourselves to those around us—those who appear to have it all together—and we act as our own judge and jury.

Except we don’t hand down a guilty verdict; we hand down a verdict of shame. We equate our failures with a lack of value and the absence of beauty.

And the only reasonable response is to hide, quit, bury, never try, and certainly never risk failure

We become paralyzed by the fear of our own mess.

Laughing at the Mess

I stared at the dent in my car door, and all of my old self-rejection started to well up. How could I be so stupid? What’s wrong with me? How can I get this fixed quickly so I don’t have to feel the shame of my imperfection? But, gratefully, it wasn’t hitting me like a tidal wave. It was more like a slow drip from a sink.

And then my nine-year-old son hung is head out of the van window and shouted, “Daddy, you can hardly notice it. Except for the dent.” His words landed in my heart and I began to laugh right in the middle of my mess.

And that’s when it hit me.

My year of risk had worked something into my bones. It didn’t teach me I can handle anything or conquer all fear or come closer to perfection. It taught me this: I’m a mess, and that is completely okay. In fact, I learned grace and joy collide right in the middle of our messiest places, and they give birth to beauty in the midst of our mess.

Messy had become my word for the year.

So my laughter gave way to a thought, “I’m keeping it. I’m keeping this dent as a reminder that I’m messy and life is messy and embracing that reality is joy and beauty and belovedness.” And we need that reminder, don’t we?

It can be so easy to forget.

I Wonder…

I wonder if you have a dent or two that you keep beating yourself up for? I wonder if you have nicks and scratches you are trying to cover up or are desperate to repair?

I wonder what would happen if we made “messy” our word for the year?

I wonder what kind of freedom we would feel if we let Grace transform our mess into something beautiful. 

I wonder how long our fear and shame could withstand the brilliant light of a messy Grace. 

I wonder what our days would look like if we began populating them with people who embrace our mess with us.

I wonder what our world would look like if we quit shaming each other for our messes and instead, looked each other in the eye and said, “I know, me too, I’m messy in my own way.”

I wonder what our lives would look like if our embraced and embodied word of the year was one loud, joyful exclamation:


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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.