Windfall March 30, 2012

What would you do if you won the MegaMillions Jackpot?  All 540 million of it?

It is a far-fetched prospect; but one we’ve been playfully toying with around here lately. What if our little, old family came into hundreds of millions of payout?  What if, all of a sudden, we went from a world of dealing with the here and now to one where we never had to worry about sending 5 kids to college, future health coverage, or retirement?  What if we were suddenly in the awesome position of helping out a lot of people?  What if we were faced with the overwhelming temptation of having too much?

On our way home from church last Saturday night, we stopped at the local convenient store to pick up a ticket and ruminate at the prospects of winning.

“I’d buy hundreds of Legos,” chirped one of my sons.

“I’d start a foundation and run it as my job,” shared my kind-hearted husband.

“I’d buy a new minivan,” was my response, thinking of our 14yo “Big Blue” and its rinky, tinky driving.

But what would we really do?  As my husband and I discussed later, it’s one thing to balk at prospects of wealth, but another to actually be in the situation, surrounded by filthy rich temptations.  Could we stay true to our godly character?  Would we fall victim to exception after exception of excess?  Could my husband really avoid the temptation of buying a BMW–or would he have to?  It would all be so uncertain.

As Christians, we are called to give and give generously.  Jesus recounts tales of wealth time and time again in the New Testament, calling followers to give like the poor widow in Mark 12:44– “They all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”  Earlier in Matthew, he talks about the temptation of the rich–“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

In many ways, I don’t envy the future winner.  What a grand, painstaking task to choose to where and what amount one would give.  There would be judgment and beggars and others showing up out of nowhere to peddle and purge and pickpocket.   Almost like the greatest 540 million dollar problem anyone has ever encountered.  But I can imagine no greater feeling of completeness leaving a trail of kindness and generosity across the world.

Are we still going to buy a ticket for tonight?  Yes.  And if, by chance, we happen to win, I pray we might find contentment in the good we can do and not in the abundance. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Tim. 6: 7-10

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  • Kathy

    Liked the post – especially the verse from Timothy at the end – something to remember.

    I thought about what I would do with $540 million and funny – one of the first things that came to mind – was after securing our family for college, etc. Would be to contact my pastor and pay off the church’s mortgage. Our parish has a new church that was completed in 2008 and has a new mortgage too.

    I would also give to our friend, Princeton’s new chaplain, money for the Aquinas endowment to make his life a little easier.

    Of course I would give to my alma mater, William and Mary and my husband’s alma mater, St. Bonaventure.

    I think that you ladies and your many posts about tithing must have triggered that initial response to give to so many church causes. Good job ladies.

    Of course, I would need to decide all of this while on an extended vacation in Tahiti. 🙂

  • maryalice

    We had a mission priest from Haiti speak at our parish and he described how we have all already “won the lottery” by the nature of our birth into American prosperity. I love to dream about the good (and the shopping!) that I would do if I won, but I think that I should probably focus more on the good that I could do with what I already have. My weekly venti Starbucks latte may be the equivalent of a millionaire’s BMW — something over priced and self indulgent which I could forgo in order to have more to give to those in great need.

    More than anything else, though, I would like to win the lottery of time. I would like to be able to play Clue with one child, read with another, watch the Daily Show with my husband and make a home cooked dinner, all without feeling exhausted at the end of each day or leaving a trail of unfinished chores behind me. Perhaps facebook is the time comparison for Starbucks there, bits of time which seem inconsequential but could be better used elsewhere.

    I am going to close up my computer and put away my cell phone for all of next week, a last gasp at Lent, and hope that I have more time to be present to my family and also more time for prayer. Maybe it will feel like winning the lottery!

  • Kellie “Red”

    Love these thoughts ladies.

    I have always said that I would love a beach house. But if I had a beach house, I’d probably go to hell!

    I’m partially joking of course, but it has always helped me to look at the things I would like and don’t have as symptoms of my own depravity, and this causes me to view their attainment as something that would actually be bad for my soul. And while it would be great to give to charities of my choice, build homes for abandoned mothers and children, etc., it is far better for everyone else that they all get to give to these wonderful causes, and give from their need, and for me to give from my own need, than for me to strike it rich, live easy and give from my excess.

  • Chris Brown

    Great post, Bethany! You have a gift with words. Orran and I had a similar conversation just last night, pondering the challenges of actually having that much money at our disposal. I hope that the winner shares our view of basking in all the good he/she can do…the possibilities are endless. PS-How do you find time to blog with FOUR kids?! Rockstar Mom!

  • Juris Mater

    Hilarious Kathy, I agree, all these important financial things would need to be discerned in a lounge chair on a tropical beach with a frozen drink in hand : )

  • I think the key with any windfall, whether it be as dramatic as the lottery or as ordinary as an unexpected bonus from work, is to maintain a certain degree of detachment from the money. Ultimately, money is of this world, and if we are attached to the things of this world then our hearts become disobedient to God. On the other hand, if we are able to be good stewards of our money and at the same time can remain fairly detached from it, our hearts will belong to God and we will be obedient. As long as our hearts belong to God, we know that we are on the right path.

  • JMB

    If anyone read today’s NY Post, they have a little piece on four people who won the lottery and blew it all. In all circumstances, it was a bust and caused more harm than if they had never won at all. I think it would be so problematic – I remember watching a show about the lottery on TLC and one family from PA had to hire round the clock security guards for their two teenage children because they were afraid that they would be kidnapped. In the end, they had to pack up and move to FL and start all over where nobody knew their past because none of their former friends could relate to them anymore.

    Of course, in the event I won, I think I would rent a villa in Tuscany for the summer and treat my family and friends!

  • FYKW

    We missed the ticket-buying ticket because we were at Stations of the Cross…A far better investment but would have been fun to join in the excitement! I think I would be tempted to provide all the comforts to my parents and family first, when they aren’t really in need–even things like a chauffeur (their driving is getting terrible!), and then would have trouble making a good, solid plan in my charitable donations to make a real difference, not just randomly spreading money to various causes. Not that the random spreading of donations wouldn’t be helpful in any manner, but I think I would really want to find some way to make a meaningful difference in one type of programs’ success. But how does one choose? Take applications? Hire someone to think for you? Managing the money and donations seems like it would be a full time job–not one that I would be ready for!

  • maryalice

    We were talking about this recently, if you were someone like Kate Middleton and you knew that your influence could make a tremendous difference to a charity, not just in the money that you gave but in the attention that it brought, what would you choose? Food and basic needs for the poorest of the poor, education, Christy Turlington is working on a charitable project for maternal/baby health in third world areas where they don’t have access to prenatal or delivery care. That sort of power is an interesting responsibility.