My dad liked to play the lottery.
Back in the day, in the 70s and 80s when he did most of his “gambling,” there was no such thing as the Powerball. Instead he wagered on what three digit number would be chosen that evening. Most of his bets were small ones; a dollar, a dollar fifty – one bet straight, one “boxed.” Boxed meant that even if he didn’t get the order of the numbers right, he would still win something if he guessed correctly on the digits.
Dad had a little notebook and pencil that he kept in the drawer of the side table. Stored along with the notebook was a book about dream interpretation that would, I suppose, help Dad choose the right numbers. I always found that amusing. He wasn’t a particularly superstitious man (although he did believe in ghosts) and he seemed too devout to me to entertain any sort of real belief in that sort of mysticism. I think it was just for fun. This means something significant. He wasn’t the sort of man who did much for fun, unless you count mowing the lawn in shirtsleeves with a pushmower after a long day of working on the assembly line.
I remember the evenings when I’d be getting ready to go out with friends on the weekend. Dad would be watching TV – I’m pretty sure it was Wheel of Fortune – waiting for the time when the numbers were drawn. It was at an odd time, something like 7:26, and there was a woman with an odd name – Aggie Usedly – hosting the show. Funny that I still remember that after all these years.
So Aggie would draw the numbers, and Dad would jot them down. He won sometimes, but I don’t remember him saying anything at the time. It’s not like he jumped up and down or even smiled; he just wrote the numbers down and put the book away.
He said that “if you have a dollar, you should play” and “Every workin' man should buy a ticket.” I rarely took his advice. I did play once, when I found a bracelet at work, turned it into the lost and found, and was rewarded with it 90 days later when no one claimed it. There was a price tag on the back: it was marked $165. Dad took me to Safeway and we bought a ticket. Of course we played it straight and boxed. I think it came up 156, and I won. I don’t remember how much, and I don’t think I ever played again. But I do remember going to Safeway with Dad and learning how to buy a ticket.
Today everyone is at Safeway or 7-11 or the gas station or wherever it is people buy tickets these days. With or without their dads, they are standing in lines, filling out papers with lots of red ink and lots of little numbers. Some are doing it for fun, others to join in the cultural excitement. I imagine many are uttering prayers as they choose the numbers, perhaps the only prayers they’ve said in a long time. Certain that a lottery win would change their lives for the better, they cling to a hope that somehow, this time, things will go their way. They will win. They will win so much money. They will pay off their bills, and their mom’s bills too, and maybe even their rotten kids’ college loans. They will get big new house and some cars, boats, who knows, maybe even a yacht. And of course they will never work another day in their lives, and they will travel to beaches where it never rains and maybe even buy their own island.
And the decent people standing in line with all the other regular greedy people? When they win, they will do So Much Good. They will create nonprofits and foundations and charities, and they will feed the hungry and give clean water to everyone, even the children in Flint.
I don’t want to win the lottery, at least not one like the Powerball. It would do too much damage.
It’s not because I’m not materialistic. I’m massively materialistic. I love things. I beautiful clothes and art and everything you can buy at Target. I love to travel. I love food and wine and houses, oh man, do I love houses. I am still working to overcome the envy I feel when I see the beautiful homes others dwell in. I want it all so badly sometimes. So badly that I thank God daily that I don’t have the ability to obtain much more than I need.
Even on a day like today, when I have only 39 cents in my checking account, I am wealthier than most people in the world. I’m not talking about the non-material blessings in my life, things like my health and family. Those things are priceless. I’m talking about money. I have a roof over my head and more clothing than I need. I have more than one coat and several pairs of shoes. I have enough food for the day. I have cleaner water than some people in my own country.
I don’t currently have a job or a steady income. My husband has a seasonal based commission only job. But I still have more resources, a better education, and better possibilities for good fortune than the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet. I don’t need more, and I know myself well enough to know that too much more would make it much more difficult for me to become the person I’m meant to be.
But you’re a nice person, friends say. You could do so much good with that money! Imagine the possibilities! That is true, I suppose. But what would it cost me to give away what I don’t need? Perhaps I’m selfish, but I want the joy of giving from my want. I want the experience of loving people by allowing myself to suffer a little to do good for them. I could have endless financial resources and I could give and give and give, but I don’t think I would be learning to love. And the world doesn’t need money. People don’t need money to solve all of their problems. They need love.
This sounds so pious and trite. I realize that many people suffer because they don’t have enough money to provide for themselves and their families. However, good people winning lotteries is not the solution.
The solution is good people giving what they can give, right now, today.
If you can offer a hot cup of coffee to a homeless man, do it. If you can babysit for a tired young mom, or sit with the elderly, or make your husband a sandwich, do it. If you can donate thousands, do that too. But don’t wait for the money to be generous. You’re cheating yourself of one of the greatest joys you will ever experience.
And don’t feel badly that you can’t hand each of your children enough money to pay off those loans and buy their own homes. You would only be denying them the joy of earning their own way, or maybe the joy of learning to depend completely on Providence.
I suppose it’s simpler than I’m making it out to be. I don’t want to win the lottery because I don’t want to forget about that Providence.
I’ve experienced the indescribable joy of trusting completely in God. I recognize that He is responsible for every good thing in my life: for my health, my family, my home, and yes, my money. Sometimes he provides by allowing me to work at a job I enjoy. Sometimes not. Sometimes he allows my husband to provide for me. Sometimes he gives me what I need through the generosity of a friend or a stranger, or even a program of the government. My job is to be faithful, to use my gifts to best of my ability, and to be generous. The rest is up to Him.
Yes, God might choose to provide for me with lottery winnings. Full disclosure: my husband asked me to fill out one of those red inked forms, and I did it. When I’ve told him in the past that I would not want to win a large sum, he has assured me that he won’t tell me if I do. That’s fine with me.
In the meantime, I’m waiting on a sure thing. I am completely confident that God has me covered. I am honestly excited to see how He is going to work things out this time. He’s never let me down. With him, I always win.
If Dad were alive, I’m sure he’d buy a ticket, and he’d tell me to buy one too, even though I’m not a “workin’ man” these days. He’d probably even loan me a buck to do it. But to be honest, I’d rather have Dad here to take me to Safeway just one more time than win any lottery. Maybe I’ll see if Mom has any of his old notebooks filled with numbers tucked away somewhere. She might even have one of those dream books. But I don’t need one to guide me. I know what my dreams mean. And I know the ones that come true – and the ones I still hold deep in my heart – have nothing at all to do with lottery winnings.