You’ve made your list, you’re checking it twice, and the total comes out to a really high price! Yes, Christmas is the season of giving—but between family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, the shopping list keeps getting longer and longer. And for most of us, 2020 hasn’t exactly been a banner financial year. There has to be another way!
Well, I have an alternative to share. And it isn’t even a compromise or “second best.” It’s about giving gifts that are much more valuable than things—in fact, these gifts are priceless. Instead of spending your time and money getting people more stuff, plan to give something a little more personal, much less expensive, and powerfully transforming this year.
When I did a comprehensive study on kindness for The Kindness Challenge, I discovered that giving or sharing something that’s precious to you is an especially powerful way of showing someone that you care. So, this Christmas, consider giving these three gifts that make a positive difference in any relationship—during the holiday season and beyond.
Gift #1: Time
The first gift on the list is time. We are all busy. So giving someone your time powerfully communicates respect, value, and affection for that person.
This year it’s particularly important to distinguish between quantity and quality time. Many of us have been cooped up together with our immediate family for really long periods of time. But your loved one will benefit from your gift of focused quality time together. So that means no work, no school, no distracted texting or social media scrolling. Plan a special activity doing something they will enjoy.
Here are some specific suggestions:
For spouses, if you want this to be an actual “I spent money on you” gift, show them you want to spend time with them by arranging to share a special concert or show that they have been wanting to see. (We might think the pandemic has shut down these opportunities, but more and more organizations are offering live-stream experiences. It may require some creativity and research, but it is still possible!) So many people in the research have mentioned that a shared experience-related gift is special because it says, “I know you, what you care about … and I want to spend time with you.” At this time when budgets are tight for many of us, a coupon book of walks, take-out dates, or watching a free “armchair travel” tour demonstrates the same kind of love.
What about other ideas—including for other relationships, like family members, friends, or co-workers? A powerful gift of time could be as simple as setting aside time to listen to problems or offer advice. It could mean turning completely away from your computer when your daughter comes into your home office and wonders when you can watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas with her, or your son asks when you could play the new Playstation game with him. When you save what is on your screen, and say “What about now?” that is a very crucial message to your child (or spouse) that in the middle of your time crunch, you are prioritizing them.
The couples I studied for The Kindness Challenge practiced this gift of time by rearranging their schedule to be more available for their spouse. And the impact was huge. In fact, for those who prioritized being more available to their partners, 84 percent reported being happy in marriage.
Women especially value time. In my book For Men Only, my research found 70 percent of married women essentially said they would give up financial security for more time with their husbands. Ultimately, a husband spending quality, focused time with his family might be the best gift he could give during any season.
Gift #2: A Sacrifice of Comfort
The second gift is a sacrifice of comfort. This is one that I found especially effective and evident in healthy couples. For instance, getting up to make and bring your spouse coffee in bed on a cooooold morning shows exceptional kindness! Volunteering to do the dishes when you are also exhausted from work demonstrates true others-focused love. Try to do something like that at least two or three times each day when you are both particularly busy, and watch what happens!
Why is it so powerful? Because your spouse knows you are tired and busy too. During this time of year, when we are all pulled in 10 directions per day (heck, per hour, even!) these actions signal “I know you have a lot on your plate and I want to help you.”
Sacrificing comfort for others besides spouses speaks volumes as well. Putting in extra time to help a co-worker with a problem will enhance that relationship. Shoveling the neighbor’s sidewalk shows great thoughtfulness amidst chilly discomfort. Any sacrifice of your own personal comfort for someone else conveys the kindheartedness that relationships need to flourish.
Gift #3: Forgiveness
Finally, the third gift to better relationships is forgiveness. The world needs kindness and forgiveness now more than ever. I’m pretty sure that with the stress of the holidays, even if you have a great relationship you have probably gotten sideways with someone, snapped at your kids, or huffed at your spouse—or they snapped at you. Ask for forgiveness quickly, and give it quickly too. By choosing to neither be prideful nor hold a grudge, we not only show kindness, we demonstrate to those around us exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Forgiveness and kindness are interrelated. If you need to forgive someone, but find it difficult, showing intentional kindness, like giving of your time and sacrificing comfort, can help you begin. A dear friend of mine has a three-word mantra that sums up these simple steps. “Obedience precedes emotion.” You may not feel like forgiving (or asking for forgiveness), but as you do simple acts of kindness for the other person, your feelings will begin to align with your actions.
And here’s the awesome truth: ultimately, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. You don’t want to be bound up with grudges at this time of year. Forgiveness will bring freedom from bitterness and expand your empathy and compassion for others. It allows your heart to love more easily.
A big pile of packages under the tree might make for a great Instagram photo, but after the initial excitement fades, the presents will be forgotten. The gifts of time, sacrifice of comfort, and forgiveness will have a positive impact on your relationships that will remain long after the last Christmas cookie has been eaten and the decorations have been put away for another year.
Are you currently reading Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy? Please leave a book review on Amazon!
And check out her latest book (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.
This article was first published at Patheos.