Hard lessons from easy money.
by Jeri Darby
While scanning the newspaper, my eyes rested on a short story about a crumbling marriage. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then laughter rose inside me as I read further. The distraught husband was divorcing his wife because she refused to give up bingo.
Bingo? I silently questioned. I couldn’t believe something so trivial had created such marital havoc. The couple was being financially destroyed because of the wife’s uncontrollable gambling habits.
That woman crossed my mind frequently over the next few years. My own enormous gambling habit was devastating my life. Now that I understood the pain of this dreaded addiction, I knew it was no laughing matter. Gambling consumed my time, energy, and finances. I felt new compassion and empathy for the woman.
“Did you win?” my children inquired frequently when I returned home.
“No, not this time.”
“Mom, why do you keep playing bingo?”
“It’s fun, it’s relaxing for extra money, for distraction.” The list of excuses went on and on until I had to acknowledge that I was no longer in control, but driven. My children grew weary of my leaving them frequently and canceling planned family events without warning. This seemingly harmless pastime had taken on a life of its own. It demanded to be fed, and no matter how much I poured into it, it was never enough.
God had carefully built a solid foundation beneath me when I first became a Christian at age nineteen. I quit school in the twelfth grade and obtained a GED. A single parent of three children, I had no career goals or life direction.
Weary of living on a fixed income, I sought God for a way out. He answered my prayer by guiding me to a career in nursing. I became first an LPN, then a RN. This was certainly more than I had ever dared to hope for.
Eventually, the pressures of a failing marriage and other burdens of life caused my judgment to falter. I began drifting further away from the church that provided me sound counsel, from God who had renewed my strength countless times before, and from fellow Christians who covered me with love and prayers.
My young adulthood had been sheltered by a strong Christian faith. Now in my thirties I was naive to the raw cruelties of life. I began journeying down paths filled with unexpected crooks and turns. Gambling was one of many painful detours my life would take.
I was four months pregnant with my fourth child the first time I played bingo. I reluctantly attended with my friend, placing my chip on the next number called until someone abruptly ended the game by yelling “Bingo!” Surrounded mostly by graying elderly men and women making friendly but boring chit-chat, I thought I would die of boredom.
I vowed to myself that this would be my last time. Then I won one hundred and fifty dollars by splitting the three hundred dollar jackpot on the last game. I left thinking, Wow! This was the easiest money I ever received! My mind spun. I visualized winning enough money from bingo to buy everything I needed, and more, for my unborn child. I didn’t know then that gambling was a trap and would rob me of more than it would ever give back.
Shame and failure
Financial pressures increased as I poured more and more of my earnings into bingo. The game soon became like a second job. I played daily, including weekends and sometimes twice on Sundays. I began to recognize the regular bingo crowd. I ran into the same people regardless where I went. They must do nothing but play bingo, I silently criticized. Then I realized that they probably were thinking the same about me. I felt helpless and ashamed.
Often I would announce to my children early in the day that I was not going to gamble that night. About a hour before bingo began, a high level of anxiety hit me, with knots in my stomach. My palms sweat. Many times I took off apologetically as my children stood gazing, eyes filled with disappointment. I felt like such a failure.
I began to grieve for us all. Having a foundation in Christ, I knew that we had been snared in one of Satan’s nets. I thought these places should have a neon sign alerting, “GAMBLING CAN BE COSTLY AND ADDICTING.”
My appetite for gambling activities increased without warning. Before long I was playing the lottery, going to out-of-town bingos that offered larger prizes. I discovered Las Vegas nights. Even this was not enough, so I incorporated slots and blackjack. Often I had to borrow money to play for the week. My financial situation became more and more critical. The occasional small win could not carry the burden of the frequent heavy losses.
When I had a strong hunch about a number, it was not unusual for me to bet as much as one hundred dollars. Too embarrassed to allow anyone to see how out of control I was, I drove to several stores to play the same number. I paid to receive numbers in the mail that were given a high probability of coming out within a short time. Sin and darkness had a vice grip on my life.
My children felt neglected from being left alone so much, and they began to act out their anger in inappropriate ways. Our pain caused me to seek solace in the church. I attended infrequently when burdens became too unbearable, only to win unexpectedly and be distracted by the game of chance once again.
My occasional visits to church began to prevail against the powers of darkness. I started to see that I was intoxicated by the illusion of fast money bringing the solutions to all my problems. Satan had kept me chasing this empty dream so hard that I had little time for sober thinking.
The Bible slowly and steadily penetrated my heart until the light of God’s truth could shine through. I saw myself as a prodigal daughter who walked away from a loving, caring father and had wasted my portion. With restored hope, I reflected on earlier years when God had prospered my life not by quick fixes but by a strong spiritual foundation. I believed the biblical reality that “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22, NKJV).
Thinking soberly once again, I vowed that I would return to God to receive His mercy and forgiveness. The vicious cycle of gambling had consumed over ten years of my life.
That’s been over ten years ago. Needs that always lingered just beyond my grasp I purchase easily now that I’m longer gambling. God has replenished my hopes, my dreams, and my vitality for life. My time, energy, and finances are now spent serving the needs of my family and others.
Sometimes when I’m standing in line at the store, I feel knots in my stomach. “Just try one,” Satan will taunt me. Or “No one will know” as I attempt to ignore those instant lottery tickets dangling in front of my eyes. Many times I could use some quick cash, but the wisdom I gained by gambling was too painful and costly. I can never again afford to forget that Jesus is the answer for all my problems. As long have Him, I have a sure thing!
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