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The winning ticket

| Monday, November 2, 2015

Once in awhile, I have an urge to buy a lottery ticket. Usually, this feeling strikes in the supermarket checkout line. While I’m putting my groceries away and preparing to leave, my eyes will catch a glimpse of the ticket machine that may hold a one-way ticket to fortune.

Of course, most tickets behind the glass promise payouts of amounts much less than a fortune. But, amidst the lure of a few extra dollars, I still find my hand reaching into my wallet to see if I have a few dollars to spare.

In the time between my initial excitement and the disappointment of losing (I’ve never won any money), I find myself entering into an imaginative exercise. I’ll ask myself what I would actually do with an extra $50, $100 or $1,000.

My losing tickets snap me back to reality. Truth be told, I always feel a little silly afterward. My disappointment makes me wonder why I wasted my money in the first place.

You can imagine my surprise when I won $5000 two weeks ago.

The winning ticket came in the mail. It came unremarkably, amidst ads and junk mail. For this reason, I hastily yanked its pull-tabs without much thought.

At the last moment, I realized that I was looking upon three golden sevens. On the ticket, this was a winning combination that came with $5,000 prize guarantee. As I read the details on the information page that accompanied the ticket, a healthy dose of skepticism set in. Having never won a prize like this, deep down I couldn’t believe this was happening now. But, as I searched the promotional details, I couldn’t find a loophole. I made a decision to call the sponsoring organization the next day to see if this ticket was real.

The lady I spoke to on the phone was very friendly and excited to speak to me. After I described my ticket to her, she told me that it was real and to come by in person. Since the sponsoring organization was a car dealership about 30 minutes outside of town, I committed to driving down that day after work.

While $5,000 is by no means a fortune, on the drive I couldn’t help but think about what I might do amid my good luck.

It was a strange feeling, but deep down, part of me didn’t actually want the money. I feared the additional responsibility that came with it. I also didn’t want other people to know, fearing a barrage of opinions about how I should allocate the funds.

I did like dreaming about the potential benefits. Part of me felt like giving it all away. Another part of me thought about splurging on some items that I would have normally not been able to afford.

Soon after arriving at the dealership, I got a bad feeling. As I walked inside, I caught glimpses of other people carrying tickets and smiles just like I had. Soon, I discovered that all these people had “winning” tickets just like mine. I learned that there was an additional seven digit number printed on my ticket that needed to match a seven digit number inside the dealership that guaranteed only one prize winner.

They were kind enough to try to sell me a car, though. This, I found out, was the real reason for the promotion. I didn’t stick around long after that.

On my way home, I thought about the whole situation. “Make money quick!” “Learn the secret to happiness!” “Shed pounds in just 10 days!” As this promotion demonstrates, we are attracted to opportunities that promise dramatic results, especially when they don’t involve much effort.

I say this in no way to criticize, but to observe that opportunities like these often aren’t as good as they seem. Dramatic results that lead to lasting joy don’t often follow from little effort. This is the danger of the promises of lottery tickets or fancy promotions.

Rather, lasting joy and happiness most frequently follow from hard work and from the insights learned from ups and downs experienced over time.

This is especially true of the life of faith. Most often, happy and joyful people don’t have lives that are consistently so. This is especially true of the saints.

Rather, their lives of faith involve journeys of active discipleship and of consistently choosing God in the midst of good and bad. It means diligently and patiently choosing to be grateful for God’s presence in every moment of their lives, rather than the obviously good ones.

The saints radically lived the promise that our real fortune lies in the love of God. In living as witnesses to that love, they won souls for God and for the kingdom, a reality that money can never buy or guarantee.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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