Jill was in the kitchen, right in the middle of making cookies. I’d been at their house for about a week, which is typical around Christmas, when I spend my annual two weeks at their home in Eastern Washington.

By this time, I’ve always got a load of laundry, so I tossed it into my arms and headed to the main house.

When I turned the light on in the cold basement, I was greeted by the sight of endless piles of finished and unfinished laundry. Off to the left on the folding shelf, the piles nearly touched the ceiling.

Both machines had loads, cold for hours, and more on the floor. This was hours and hours of work. If I was going to wait my turn, I’d be taking my dirty laundry home.

I could hear Jill upstairs. I know her life well with its piles of endless demands. Even as she nears 70 this coming year, she is up to her eyebrows.

She runs a very successful pottery business, is launching a brand-new spice line, and has a herd of some forty half-Arab horses that she breeds and sells.

She’s got two rambunctious grandkids that she babysits, two equally rambunctious German Shepherds, and an endless list of chores that take up every waking moment.

What Does a True Friend Do?

Several hours later, l gazed with satisfaction at the neat piles of folded laundry, the clean floors, the empty machines. I’m ex-military, and I love taking on a task. Besides, you let me listen to some silly ABBA music and I can fold laundry for hours.

I snapped my last pair of socks into a tight roll and marched my small pile back to the loft where I finished wrapping my presents. Then I forgot all about it. That is, until Jill confronted me.

Priceless

When Jill trudged downstairs a few hours later and turned on the light, she was disoriented for a moment. Instead of a defeating pile of unfinished laundry, her basement was pristine. Everything was neatly folded and ready to take upstairs and put away.

She was stumped, then she realized. The houseguest. Guilty as charged.

Jill suddenly had at least two, if not three, hours of nothingness ahead, right smack in the middle of the busiest time of the year. She could nap. Read. Rest. Play with the dogs. Do nothing. Blissful, quiet time.

Later, she told me that more than anything else, this gift meant the earth to her. No store-bought gift could possibly have done more for her than my relieving her of an annoying chore.

Not only that, her husband, who also hates laundry, was relieved of having to head downstairs to paw through the piles to find a pair of clean boxers. He too was thrilled.

Rethinking our Gifts

In our uber-busy lives, especially for those of us who are still working, whose lives include aging parents and grandkids, and the demands of both home and work, what could you do to offer a friend the priceless gift of a few hours or even a few days to themselves?

Whether it’s to commit to mowing their lawn for a month in the summer, house-sitting when they travel, temporarily taking on a responsibility, or helping them clean out the garage once and for all, what would give them the thing we all have so little of already?

Time is the one gift that is irreplaceable.

Folding Jill’s laundry was both easy and satisfying for me. It paid off in dividends that I honestly didn’t expect at the time. It also reframed how I think about giving back to my best friend.

As much as I enjoy giving gifts, that simply doesn’t match the satisfaction I feel when I relieve her of some duty. That gesture allows her to settle with deep satisfaction into her big living room chair.

Surrounded by her dogs, and her six-toed cat Toes in her lap, she can take up her favorite book, or stare out the window at her yard, where moose occasionally tangle with the grandkids’ swing. She can just BE.

Nothing can improve on a Christmas gift like that.

What is your best Christmas gift ever? Have you ever given the gift of time? If so, how did that affect your friend or family member’s life? What gifts of time might you like to receive? Share your best stories!

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