There was a big celebration going on among the workers at a restaurant in New Jersey. Okay, make that a HUGE celebration. Forty-two employees had pooled their money together to purchase $210 worth of tickets in the Powerball lottery that had a jackpot of nearly $1 billion. A friend texted the winning numbers and they matched one of the tickets. A dishwasher immediately quit his job. A valet told a customer to get his own car. Everyone was euphoric!
One of the winners called his wife and she said he needed to check the numbers again—just to be sure. That’s when they found out they had the right numbers, but the wrong day. The friend who had texted the winning numbers had sent the numbers from Wednesday rather than Saturday (the website he was using was slow on its update). As it turned out, they didn’t win anything.
They were disappointed and crushed. One of them said it felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Still, “for twenty minutes it was real . . . I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.”
Then they pooled together $400 for the next drawing.
A sad story? No doubt about it—but maybe for a different reason than you might think. I think it’s sad because of the way it suggests that money is the answer to all of our problems. I recognize that the people in the story have lower paying jobs and having more money would helpful to them and their families in many ways. I know how bills can pile up and you can’t seem to get out from under them. I understand the weariness that can come when you’ve been weighed down like this for years and don’t see your situation ever changing.
But I’ve also know people (and you probably do too) who are in similar situations and refuse to be defined by what they do or don’t have. They take their financial situations seriously but they understand that it isn’t the last word in life. In many of the most important ways, they are the rich people in life.
It’s sad to hear someone say “for twenty minutes it was real . . . I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.” That’s it? An endorphin rush is going to be a high point of your life? Are feelings that important (even ones that have no basis in reality)?
Maybe this story has a good ending. Most of us have heard the disasters stories about some people who come into sudden wealth. Sometime it’s their “friends” who become parasites and predators. Sometimes it’s financial managers who mismanage. But other times it’s about the people themselves who place too much importance on the money and it ends up warping them and their relationships. As un-American as it sounds, some of the people in New Jersey will have better, happier lives because they didn’t win the lottery.
Maybe it’s time we thought of wealth not as what we have to live with but as what we are able to live without. Jesus said, “not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 NASB). Money is like a lot of things, it’s a wonderful servant, but a lousy lord.