Wednesday, July 14, 2010


My dear spouse told me about something she saw the other day on a talk show. The host was interviewing someone who had just won the lottery. In the course of the interview (bear in mind, this is what I remember being told to me ... I never saw the interview, so it's really all in my head, and I may be way off base), the winners were asked about whether they would be giving any of the money away. Obviously, distant and long-lost relatives are going to be coming out of the woodwork when they hear the news, so it's a legitimate questions. Apparently their reaction, though, was pretty negative. It seems like since they won the money, they saw it as fully and completely theirs, with no humility or understanding that it's pure dumb luck that they're regular people one day and millionaires the next.

If you were to win the lottery, would you give any of the money away? Obviously you'd have to give some to the government, and you might even feel compelled to give some to your close family ~ you know, the ones who you spent significant time with before the lottery windfall. But would you give money to the relatives who come out of the woodwork now that you're rich? Would you give money away to charities? And if you already give money to, say, your church ... maybe even a tithe ... would you do the same with the lottery winnings? It's not too hard to give $10 out of $100. We don't even have any trouble giving $500 out of every $5000. But what if the check was for $1million. $100,000 seems like a lot more ~ it seems a lot harder to give away ~ that's a lot of money.

Money has become inordinately important to people these days. Obviously it must be high on the priority list for people who live hand to mouth in our society; but for the rest of us who can afford the occasional green-labeled-expensive-coffee-drink, we've put way too much emphasis on money. Or maybe more accurately, we get too hung up on being in control of what we have no matter how we came to possess it.

I'd like to think that if I won the lottery, I'd give away at least 1/2 of my 'winnings'. One obstacle would be all the attention it would garner (I'm not really much of a 'spotlight' guy). But there's no reason I really need that much money. But I wonder, would I fall prey to the "I have it, so it's mine; and because it's mine, I deserve it; and because I deserve it all, you must not deserve any of it (other than what I decide, in my magnanimity, that you ought to have); and because you don't deserve any, I'm going to keep it for myself" trap?

I don't know anyone who has won the lottery, so I don't even have any second-hand experience to draw on. I do, however, know that even when they give money away (say, to church, for instance), some people still want to have control over those funds.

That's something I don't understand, though. I think that if I were to suddenly receive a huge amount of money (say, nine figures or more), I'd want to share as much of that as I could. First, I'd pay off all of our debt (house and student loans). Second, I'd probably want to buy a new bike. I don't need anything super nice or expensive, just a step up from what I have now. Third, we'd make some improvements on our home; in particular, we'd re-finish the basement (which right now is a phenomenal tour of some of the worst floor and wall coverings from the 50s through the 80s ... think fake brick, mirrored and marbled wall tiles, and the ubiquitous fake wood paneling).

Then I'd want to start sharing. Of course we'd put a little aside in savings. But I feel like the joy of giving money away is so much greater than holding on to it, or buying anything I want on a whim. We have a nice home. I have a job I love. We had plenty income even with only one pastor salary in the family. Now that we have two, we feel pretty flush. We don't need nicer clothes, or more expensive things.

I can almost understand someone who started out with not much and who worked hard (the stock market doesn't count, in my opinion) and received lucky breaks through their life so they ended up rich wanting to keep what they'd earned. But hitting the lottery, or receiving a windfall inheritance is not the same thing.

The thing it seems like many people don't understand is that there's no joy in hoarding ~ but there's great joy in giving. Trouble is, no one ever understands this until they experience it.



  1. I really agree with the part about hoarding what you have not earned. I also know someone directly that has work extremmly hard all his life, has plenty of money into retirement, but is still miserable. Very little to do with money. Has no relationship with God and with other people.

    I hope that I would fall into the giving all away that I don't need to feel that I need to be comfortable. Being comfortable is not having a new car every year, the best house on the block, all the new electronic gadgets, every time one comes out. No material things can bring me the true happiness that I desire.

    Being comfortable enough, to spend the time and energy with the people I love and people I would meet and get to know. And of course that green label cup of coffee every now and then.

    Thanks for being you and being part of my life!

  2. Out riding our bikes last month, in a neighborhood of very large houses, and I commented to my friends that if I ever won the lottery, which is not likely since I don't play, I hope that I would still be comfortable in my current size house. Didn't take the thought out as far as you, which is much more interesting to ponder.

    I would however have to purchase a very nice bike, not just a step up.

  3. At first thought, I imagined doing similarly to you. At least a tithe but I have that little list of things I'd like to do and then give additional too. But then I wondered to myself what it meant to cover my list first and give second. I mean I know I assumed there would be enough leftover to give after my modest list, but don't we do that too often? Think our lists, our wants, are modest and give what's left. So my new plan should I ever win the lottery which would indeed be miraculous having never played in my life, is to give half first and then to look to my needs and wants no matter how modest they may seem. Of course who say half is enough. Quite the slippery slope.

  4. If I won a lottery, I would be happier if it were in the hundreds of thousands rather than in the millions. I think that would be less complicated. But I would give almost all of it away and probably not to regular charities. I think I would give money to a number of businesses, churches, and organizations in my town, the town itself, and to the school district. I would keep some for me: some new appliances (mine are all over 25 years old) and I'd set aside some for a trip. That's it.

  5. I wonder if the church should accept donations made from the proceeds of gambling such as the lottery?