The holidays are here once again. So, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas presents. Should I get her that one darling outfit this year? How about the latest toy every child has to have? Or perhaps something that he’ll use longer than a week? As you start the laborious task of “gift” searching, I want to encourage you to give your family a different kind of present this year. This gift is not something that can be found in stores or can be wrapped up in a shinny box. Instead, it comes from inside your heart. But don’t be fooled, this special present can dramatically alter the lives of each family member forever. Let me explain through one of the most powerful illustrations I’ve ever heard.

As a young boy peeled back the layers of wrapping paper from the tiny box, he found a small, hand written note from his father inside. “Son,” the note read, “this year I will give you 365 hours, an hour every day after dinner.”

“This simple present became the greatest gift I ever had in my life,” explained the boy as an adult. “Because my dad not only kept his promise, but every year he renewed it. I am the result of his time.”

One hour after dinner is all it took to change this boy’s life forever. It’s such a simple idea — obvious even — yet how many of us actually do this consistently. Nonetheless, spending time with our families can be difficult because we all have more to do than can be done in one day. Between work, school, after school activities, car pool, and house duties, who has the time? But we can spend meaningful time with our family by doing several important things. First, however, we need to make a distinction between quantity of time and quality time. In the midst of a busy day, it’s nearly impossible to provide an unlimited amount of time with each person. Therefore, what our families need is quality time and not just time. Simply spending time with someone does not ensure that it’s time well spent. How often our we home, but not present. In order to be present with our family we need to do four important tasks.

1. Become A Servant In Your Home. Giving your family the special gift of time begins by adopting a servant’s heart. As we serve our family, we make them feel as if they’re the most important thing to us. This is the essence of the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38). The first way to become a servant is to make a commitment to serve your family. In I Peter 3:7 it says, “You husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives [and family], and treat them with respect…” A great way to show consideration is to serve someone. Serving our family needs to be a decision that we make every day. I encourage you to wake up each morning and think of several ways to honor your family by serving them unconditionally. Imagine how different families could be if we tried to out serve one another each day. Second, since each person interprets “service” differently, I encourage you to personalize your service by discovering each person’s unique definition. Asking questions like, “How could I make you feel like a priceless treasure today?” or “How can I help out around the house?” should help you decide how to best serve your loved ones. As you begin serving your family, you can become the type of person Christ spoke so highly of, “But greatest among you shall be your servant!”

2. Give Your Family One Hour Every Day. Once you decide to serve your family, you can give them “sixty minutes” each day. Spending consistent time with our children provides the opportunity for many wonderful things. For example, when we spend quality time with our children we can pass on our values and beliefs, model what it means to be a Godly man or woman, prepare them for future relationships, and strengthen the relational bond. Also, spending time with children helps to provide them with a solid foundation and a cherished place to belong. Urie Bronfenbrenner, Professor at Cornell University found that children who know they belong to a family have a decreased need to adopt the values and behaviors of others. As a result, they are more resistant to peer pressure in the adolescent years, reducing the risk of promiscuity, substance abuse, and suicide.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
Get more — Free! e-booklet — Les Parrott's Making Happy

3. Discover Each Person’s 365 Most Meaningful activities. Have you ever done something you feel is loving for a family member, but he or she does not respond in a positive manner? Sometimes we can do things for our family to demonstrate our love, but it’s not want they need. Many of us understand what we need to feel loved. However, what we may need isn’t necessarily what the other person requires. For example, my wife Erin, likes me to compliment her appearance. On the other hand, if Erin never mentioned my appearance I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Therefore, since I don’t need Erin to compliment my appearance to feel loved, I then have a tendency not to notice her appearance. This is a common problem families face: We have a tendency to demonstrate our love in the same manner that we like to receive it. The problem is that each family member may need something totally different than what we may provide. This is why the most effective way to serve your family during the 365 hours is to discover their most meaningful activities. Don’t just assume you know or it may not be time well spent. You can find out, however, by asking each person to list the activities he or she would enjoy most. You might use the zero to ten scale, with ten being the most fun and fulfilling. Then, you could place all the suggestions in a “fish bowl” or something, and draw a different activity each day. Remember to keep the suggestions short and simply because it needs to be something which can be accomplished within one hour.

4. Become Accountable to Someone. The final piece for providing this special gift is through accountability. Accountability is simply being responsible to another person or persons for the commitments you’ve made. If you desire to spend quality time with your family, I encourage you to ask a good friend, pastor, bible study group, or co-worker for accountability. The important ingredient is having someone to ask the difficult questions. For example, “Did you provide at least one hour each day?” or “Did you reschedule any time that was lost due to unavoidable circumstances?” Ideally, these questions force us to carefully and prayerfully consider our choices because we know that someone will be checking.

Although involvement with your family needs to be a everyday life experience, like I’ve stated, it does not have to be extensive. A perfect “365 hours” activity might include waking up with them in the morning, eating meals together, playing games, reading books, developing a family night, conducting a family Bible study, or having a special time before bed. But if you can’t redeem your promise that day, be sure to reschedule the time. The different kind of Christmas present I’m talking about doesn’t cost any money, but it does come with a price. The price is choosing to give up other things to be available to your family. One hour a day, sixty minutes can dramatically change your loved ones’ lives forever. What a special gift!

The opening story was adapted from God’s Little Devotional Book for Dads.

Taken from The Center for Relationship Enrichment, by Greg Smalley. Copyright © 2007 Greg Smalley. All rights reserved. Used by permission

Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at