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Giving the Gift of Time

In Traits of a Healthy Family, Dolores Curran says that lack of time might be the most pervasive enemy the healthy family has. That may sound a bit strong, but our research here at The Center for Healthy Relationships suggests, that in many ways it is true.

Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University has done extensive research on the family. He has made the powerful statement that: “It is noteworthy that of all the countries in which my colleagues and I are working, now numbering half a dozen both in the West and the East, the only one which exceeds the U.S. in the willingness of children to engage in antisocial behavior is the nation closest to us in our Anglo-Saxon traditions of individualism. That country is England . . . England is also the only country in our sample which showed a level of parental involvement lower than our own, with both parents, especially fathers, showing less affection, offering less companionship and intervening less frequently in the lives of their children.”

When 1,500 school children were asked the question, “What do you think makes a happy family?” the most frequent answer was “doing things together.” Over the years, I've learned that in life it's not so much what we do for people that impacts them as what we do with them.

“If I could start my family again, one thing would be changed. I would play more with my three boys and cultivate more family sharing experiences. By sharing good times, a family builds cohesiveness and unity. They learn to enjoy each other and compensate for each other's weaknesses. The play of children is something of a rehearsal for life, and parents who share these times of play will have a great opportunity to teach their children how to live.” Allen Peterson

Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” One of the best ways to measure what is important to a person, what he or she treasures, is where and how they spend their time.

From the four gospels it is easy to see what Christ treasured. Relationships were one of our Lord's highest priorities. If we look at Christ's life it is impossible to ignore the value he placed on people. While He was on earth, he invested his life in people. He came, lived, died, rose, and has promised to come again for people like you and me.

Christ also knew the importance of modeling. He didn't just give his disciples lectures and tell them to read the scrolls. He spent a lot of time with them. Quantity time and quality time. For those of us who are parents it is impossible for me to overstate the value of quantity time with our children. Just how important is it?

A frightened eighteen-year-old boy stood in front of a stern judge and listened as the judge, a close personal friend of the boy's father, told him that he was a disgrace to the community and his family: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, disgracing your family's name, causing your parents a great deal of anguish and embarrassment. Your father is an upright citizen in this community. I have personally served on numerous committees with him and know of his commitment to his city. I count your father as a close personal friend, and it is with deep grief that I have to sentence you this day for your crime.”

With his head bowed in obvious embarrassment, the young man listened to the judge. Then, before sentence was passed, he asked if he could speak: “Sir, I do not mean to be disrespectful or to make excuses for my behavior. But I envy you a great deal. You see, there were many days and nights that I wanted to be my father's best friend. There were many times when I needed his help with school work, in some of my dating situations, and in some of the difficult times that I faced as a teenager. But my father was gone a great deal, probably on some of these committees with you, or playing golf. I've always felt like other things were more important to him than I was. I don't mean this disrespectfully, but I truly wish I knew my father like you do.”

Stunned by the boy's words, the judge placed him on probation and ordered that the boy and his father were to spend time together every week, getting to know each other. The father obviously was humiliated by the sentence, realizing his lack of commitment to his son, but it caused him to get to know his son better, and that was the turning point in his son's life.

As we move into the Christmas season, we’re moving into one of the busiest seasons of the year. As you think about what gifts you want to give, consider giving those you love the gift of time. Time is a concrete expression of love that people can measure. When I give my wife, one of my sons, or a friend the gift of time I am saying, “I value you,” and, “You are important to me.” The key to having a strong marriage, to communicating Christian values to our kids, to having healthy relationships is time.

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