There’s only one place to start any program of self-transformation. And that’s to stop complaining!
Remember that scene from The Godfather when the Hollywood singer, Johnny Fontane, goes to Don Corleone and starts crying to him about all the terrible things that are happening in his life? He has no money. His marriage is breaking up. Nobody is buying his records. He can’t get a job in the movies. And all he can do is whimper and weep like a little girl and ask over and over, “What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do?”
And do you remember what the Godfather does? Instead of sympathizing with him (as many of today’s psychotherapists might be inclined to do), he stands up suddenly, grabs him by his jacket, starts shaking him furiously, and yells at the top of his lungs: “You can stop crying and act like a man!”
Well, it’s time for you and me to follow that advice.
And if you happen to be a woman and don’t want to “act like a man,” then you can “put on your big-girl panties” instead—or use whatever other expression you like — as long as it helps you to stop wallowing in self-pity.
Yes, I know that self-pity is sometimes okay and even necessary. All my life I’ve listened to people complain—and all my life I’ve heard myself complain too. Sometimes we need to let it out. Sometimes we need to just wring our hands and bemoan our fate and cry out to Heaven: Why me?
But not all the time. And not for long. And certainly not when we really want to change things.
Have you ever heard of the “if only” syndrome? It occurs whenever we experience problems. Instead of being honest, we say to ourselves, “If only such-and-such were the case, then everything would be fine — then I could be happy.” If only I made more money. If only I had a better job. If only I could lose weight. If only my wife were more appreciative. If only my husband were more romantic. If only, if only, if only.
But you know what? It’s all garbage. If you miraculously got a million dollars right now, I’m sure you’d be very excited, and I’m sure you’d be able to pay off all your debt — for a while. But in about a year’s time, I bet you’d have other money problems to deal with, or other family problems, or other health problems — and you still wouldn’t be happy. You’d be saying “if only” about something else.
The problem isn’t with the specific challenge you’re facing. The problem is with you. You! Admit it already. Take ownership for once! Stop lying to yourself. Wake up!
I’m not trying to be cruel. My point here isn’t to make you feel guilty. It’s to make you get honest with yourself. Remember, it’s not just you. It’s me, too. It’s everyone. We’re all a bunch of crybabies. Some of the greatest saints in history have been guilty of this. In fact, some of them have been the biggest, most annoying complainers.
Take the great St. Paul himself. He was an extraordinarily holy man, everyone agrees. But do you know something? He could be pretty annoying too. In fact, he was so annoying to the Romans that they eventually chopped his head off.
Well, just like you and me, St. Paul went through a version of the “if only” syndrome. In one of his letters, he talks about how God had given a “thorn” in his flesh to “torment” him and keep him humble. He never says exactly what the affliction was—it could have been anything: a physical problem, a spiritual temptation; who knows? — but he does say that he begged God three times to take it away from him. He basically did what we were describing a moment ago: he whined and complained to God.
But do you know what God did? He didn’t sympathize with him in any way. Instead, He said: Enough! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, God told him to shut up! And after that stern rebuke, Paul didn’t complain anymore. In fact, he actually began to take pleasure in the hardships he had to endure because he knew that somehow God was going to help him more when he was weak and suffering than when he was feeling strong.
And that’s the same lesson we have to learn.
You see, over and against the noisy cacophony of human whining that has polluted the earth’s atmosphere since time immemorial, there stands the simple and quiet figure of Jesus Christ. And Christ has one message for humanity, one message of “tough love” for all of us. And that message is this: Enough! “My grace is sufficient!”
So you’re down-and-out and can’t take it anymore? You’re tired of problems. You’re tired of bills. You’re tired of fighting with your spouse. You feel that you’re at the end of your rope. You just want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head, and sleep for a hundred years.
Okay, great, says God. Now we can start!
That’s right. When you feel you have nothing left, then God can finally begin helping you in a serious way. As St. Augustine once said, when your hands are full—full of pride and strength and self-love — God can’t really give you anything. But when your hands are empty and outstretched and utterly powerless — ah, then God can give you all the help you need. And your hands are free to accept it too.
“But no!” you shout. “My family is falling apart. My wife just left me. I just lost my job. I’m filing for bankruptcy. I’m done with false hope.”
“Enough!” God says. “My grace is sufficient!”
“But I’m grieving. I just lost someone I loved very much, and I can’t even get myself to breathe, much less function.”
Okay, if someone close to you has died, you need to grieve. You need to grieve as long as it takes. You need to cry to the very end of your tears. But eventually, when you’re ready to throw off the covers and get out of bed again and venture back into the world, the same message still applies to you.
“My grace is sufficient.” No more asking for signs. No more listening for special voices from Heaven. Grieve as long and as hard as you like. Grieve for years if you need to. But when you’re finally ready to move forward, the first thing you have to do is stop complaining about your fate.
That’s not being harsh. That’s being real. Look, even if you’re not religious — even if you don’t believe in God — you still have to stop complaining and take ownership at some point. We’ve all read stories about people who have suffered greatly and yet have somehow managed to triumph over adversity. I don’t have to remind you that there are lots of people out there who are in more pain than you — people whose problems are even worse than yours. We all know that there are children starving in third-world countries. There are paraplegics and quadriplegics who have suffered terribly debilitating accidents. All you have to do is turn on the news to see all the depressing stories about people who are suffering. And yet many of these same folks are able to remain optimistic and keep their hope and faith intact. Human beings have the power to choose to overcome almost any kind of challenge if they really want to. “It’s not your conditions but your decisions that determine your destiny.” We’ve heard that line over and over from the gurus in the personal-development industry, haven’t we?
But just because we’ve heard it so many times doesn’t mean it’s not true. It happens to be a fact. Where there’s life, there’s hope. If you’re breathing right now, then it’s still possible for you to turn things around.
I’m going to try to help you to do that in this book. But for now, only one thing is necessary. But it’s so necessary that if you don’t do it, you might as well stop reading. It’s step one on the road to transforming your life from head to soul. And in some ways, it’s the most important step because it makes all the other steps possible.
Whether you take the advice of God the Father or The Godfather, please, for just a little while, take a vacation from complaining. For the next few days, even if you don’t feel like it, even if every atom in your body cries out against it, get off your pity-pot, put on your big-girl panties, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and act like a man!
Remember: “My grace is sufficient.”
Editor’s note: this article is the first of a five-part series. It is adapted from a chapter in Anthony’s forthcoming book 30 Days to Your New Life, available for pre-order at Sophia Institute Press. The book will be released June 20, 2023.