She's sitting two tables away from me, a quarter pinched between thumb and index finger, scraping frantically at the ticket. Gray particles, like the ash from burned out dreams, litter the table. ''Did you win?'' I asked as I walked by, a cup of coffee in my hand. She glances up, eyes bloodshot, two inches of dark roots showing beneath her bleached hair, and sighs a simple ''No''.
Odds are she'll never win. But she'll keep right on trying, odds be damned, dreaming of winning the jackpot that'll make her happy. Then she can finally afford the life she craves. Quit her minimum wage job, buy a big house, fancy car, all the stuff that will fulfill her.
Only it won't. She might even agree with me if I reminded her. But deep down she'd still believe that if only she had a little more, and then a little more, and maybe just a little more, then she would be happy. Like me, like most Americans, the equation of wealth with happiness is so firmly rooted in her psyche that only a divine surgeon could dig it out.
Paul once wrote that he had learned the secret being content in any circumstance in which he found himself, whether he had plenty or not. Along with my comrade at the truck stop, I have not learned that secret. You won’t find me scraping off lottery tickets (I’m too cheap to buy them), but you will certainly catch me daydreaming of writing that award-winning, bestselling novel that’ll be translated into a thousand different languages and be made into a blockbuster movie and fatten my bank account so much that I’ll laugh as I open the Visa bill each month. And I’m willing to bet that you, dear reader, have your own dreams.
I suspect that the only situation in which I would truly learn to be content is one in which I hope I never find myself: homeless, penniless, and hungry. How will I ever learn to be content when, if even deprived of the “right kind of clothes” or “my favorite foods” or “a house big enough”, I fight discontentment? I have no illusions about the truth: I am thoroughly spoiled by material possessions. Making mammon an idol is a real and present danger for me, day in and day out. I have no idea what it’s like not to know where my next meal is coming from, where I will sleep tonight, to go without medical care, to have not a dollar to my name. I have never, not once, truly been in want, not for things essential to life. So, really, how will I ever learn to be content with little, when, relatively speaking, my whole life I’ve had a lot?
At a bare minimum, therefore, I endeavor to thank God for what I have, for everything, from electricity to shoes, from Ibuprofen to an iPhone, from my car to my job. At least such gratitude reminds me whence these gifts come, from a gracious Father, who always gives me abundantly more than I even ask for. And I pray that, should the day come when all these gifts are gone, and I discover what it truly means to be in want, that God will teach me then a humility and faith that only comes when all I have is him.