Crisis of Conscience

Disclaimer right off the bat: I’m not anti-lottery nor am I anti-gambling.

It seems like the Powerball jackpot is the big thing in the news (read: pop culture) right now. I’m going to buy a Powerball ticket. I’ve never bought one before and I have no real expectation of winning but I mean, come on, $800 million (after taxes) is a lot of money and the ticket is only $2. Why not?

Over the last week I’ve had a couple conversations with people about what I would do with that much money. I said the first thing I would do is pay off my student loans which isn’t an uncommon answer for many people. I would pay off all my family’s debts; mortgages, car loans, student loans, I’d take care of all of it because I would want my family to live a comfortable lifestyle. I was told my answers were boring.

I told them the first non-debt related, slightly impractical thing I would do is buy this house. I love Fort Morgan and I have always loved this house, both its beauty and its seclusion. Then I’d get really impractical and build a long private pier at which I would dock my private yacht. Then I would need an airstrip right by my house so my private plane could fly me to Auburn during the fall to enjoy all the games in my 50-yard line private suite. Oh, I have plans for that money…

I once read an interview with Bill Gates where he was asked if he had any real concept of the sheer amount of his wealth. He responded, “the only (he) could really grasp it was thinking that there was nothing in the world that (he couldn’t) buy.” After the interview, I thought for a few minutes about what that might be like. What would it be like if there was not a thing on Earth that I simply could not afford?

A few months ago, I wrote about an experience I had with a man named George. When I met George at a RaceTrac gas station, he hadn’t eaten and was hungry so I bought him some food. What I didn’t write about then was my desire to spend my money elsewhere.

For several years, I owned a beloved pair of polarized Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses. I’m notorious about losing sunglasses so for the longest time, I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on sunglasses. One day I decided that I really wanted those sunglasses so I would buy them and take extra precaution. I owned them for 4 years before I finally lost them one day by leaving them at the tennis court after a couple long matches. I was upset but proud of myself for owning them as long as I did.

I decided to reward myself for the longevity of my ownership by purchasing myself a new pair. I spent about a week shopping around, deciding if I wanted to stick with my tried and true Wayfarers or give something else a try. Once I made the decision to stick with those, I wanted the best deal, of course, so I looked a little longer. I met George the day before I was going to buy the sunglasses. The aftermath of my interaction with him left me feeling helpless and ashamed. In the midst of this man being unable to afford food, I was filled with excitement at the idea of owning my second pair of $200 sunglasses. I didn’t buy the glasses. I couldn’t buy the glasses.

I found myself feeling the same way in the aftermath of my lottery conversation. I first felt convicted upon realizing that none of my initial thoughts about spending the money involved giving money to the church. Tithe is important and I know some pretty awesome churches (namely the two I work with) and ministries out there that could do a lot of really great things with $80 million. That wasn’t even on my initial radar.

The conviction grew when I realized I hadn’t thought anything about helping people who needed it most…”most” being the essential word. Would my family benefit greatly from my paying off all their debts? Sure. Are any of them in danger of facing homelessness or starvation if I don’t? Not of which I am aware. But there are people who already face homelessness and starvation and they had nothing to do with my first thoughts on what I would do with all that money.

The conviction intensified to it’s maximum when this question popped in my head: “Why do I need $800 million to help people?” I didn’t have millions of dollars when I bought George food and I don’t tithe and give to certain charities each month out of some million-dollar paycheck I assure you. Why do I need to daydream about winning the Powerball to help people? The answer is I don’t.

I’m still going to spend my $2 on a ticket because how cool would it be if I got to write a check to feed every single homeless person in DFW. I think it would be way cooler than buying that beach house (which I would still buy). But I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with that money, I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with that kind of money. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what it would be like to literally be able to afford anything on planet Earth. I’m not going to sit around thinking about what I could buy with the money I have now and I’m not going to sit around thinking about the ways I could help people with the money I have now. I want to actually get out and help people. I think I will. I don’t need $800 million to help someone and you don’t either. Let’s do it.

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