SantaThis morning I circled the mall several times seeking the elusive parking stall nearest the mall entrance that would minimize the amount of rain drops I needed to dodge. Realizing it was a futile effort, I chose a spot on the outskirts of the parking lot. I trudged my way through ever-widening puddles and driving rain, soaking my feet and clothes, all the while trying to remember why I refuse to carry an umbrella.

Upon reaching the mall entrance, I passed by the old familiar sight of a bell-ringer and a red kettle. But this time I didn’t receive the hearty “Merry Christmas!” greeting. In fact, not even a more politically-correct “Happy Holidays!” was uttered as I passed the stoic volunteer.

For the next few hours I wondered aimlessly through the chain stores and assorted specialty shops looking for the best gift; a gift that grabbed my attention and fit my budget.

Jewelry, ugly sweaters, cell phones, skin care products, remote-controlled helicopters—all the typical offerings you might expect to find in a typical shopping mall—yet none of them seemed to be a perfect fit for anyone on my gift list.

Tired of wondering aimlessly from store to store with no inspiration, I bought a cup of coffee and decided to sit and watch the crowds.

I saw groups of teenagers laughing as they made their way down the crowded corridors, each one engaged in their own little world of social media and oblivious to those around them.

I watched as parents struggled to maintain their sanity as they corralled their toddlers and led them away from various shops amid their screams of “Mine!” and “I want that mommy!”

I saw shop owners peddling their wares, exaggerating features and benefits as they tried to make a sale.

Lines were forming at cash registers and credit cards were being swiped at a rapid pace in every direction. Yet everywhere I looked, I saw one thing in common. Frustration and fatigue. Faces were long and weary as shoppers bumped into one another as they loaded up with toys and gifts.

Where was the joy? Where’s the “peace on earth” and the holiday spirit? Has Christmas become a season of obligatory gift-giving and budget-busting angst?

I realized at that moment that there is no gift I could find in the mall that would be the “perfect gift” or that could satisfy everyone on my list.

As I finished my gingerbread latte I decided that this year, I will give a gift to my family that is more valuable than anything the mall has to offer and more costly than anything on my list.

To my wife, I will give the gift of unconditional love and commitment. To my kids, the gift of security and family.

I am convinced that one of the best gifts I could give my children is an amazing marriage between their mother and me. The security of knowing that their mom and dad are passionately in love and committed to one another is a gift that will keep giving throughout the year and through their entire life.

Because I know that one important factor in a successful marriage is the commitment to spending quality time together, I will carve time out of my day to focus on my wife and my kids. I will give them what they desperately want and need, even if they are unwilling to admit it.

You may want to consider adding this gift to your gift list as well. It won’t cost you a dime, but the value is priceless.

Every situation will be different, so I can’t tell you what would be right for you. Work schedules, school schedules, sports, activities, and other responsibilities on your time will dictate what is right for your particular situation.

The “when” is not the important part; it’s the doing. Set aside time for your spouse. Just the two of you. Quiet time together is an important aspect of an amazing marriage and one that you will recognize the benefits of immediately.

The amount of time isn’t even that important initially. If all you can carve out is five to ten minutes, start there. As you recognize the value of quality time spent alone with your spouse, you will start to see where you can steal a few minutes from a project or an activity.

Turn off the television, pry yourself away from the computer, avoid bringing work home, and spend these found moments with your spouse. You will begin to see the benefits of spending time together and you will begin to make this a higher priority in your marriage.  As you do this, the benefits you reap will impact you and your spouse, as well as your kids, in a spectacular way.

So go ahead and buy the new pair of shoes, the new toy, or the piece of jewelry that your loved ones want. But make sure that the best gift you give this season is the gift that only you can give—YOU!

Your spouse and kids want that more than anything else on their list!