Can you stay for tea?

My mother-in-law turned 87 this month, and when my husband asked how she would like to celebrate, her answer was simple: “For the family to be together.”

So, one recent Sunday afternoon, we gathered around her small kitchen table, elbows bumping, and enjoyed carrot cake and reminiscing. “What else does someone need who’s lived this long?” she said. Maybe a new purse for the spring, but she really wanted the gift of our time.

When I dropped off the mail the other night to an elderly neighbor who had been away, we chatted for a moment about his vacation before I said, “Have a nice evening!” As I reached for the door handle, he asked, “Oh, can you stay for tea?” The dishes were still in the sink and my plants needed watering, but I paused and settled down for a cup of chai. Though anxious to flip through the mail, he really wanted the gift of my time.

My younger daughter’s 17th birthday is coming up. When her godmother asked what she could get her, Elizabeth barely hesitated. “Let’s just go out to lunch. I have so much to tell you!” she said. And that’s the plan—lunch at a favorite café and surely lots of stories and laughter. Even at 17, when clothes and gift cards may also be on her list, Elizabeth really wants the gift of her time.

At the conclusion of Mass last week, after announcements about the raffle and parish picnic, our priest reminded the congregation to visit the Adoration chapel whenever possible.

“Come spend an hour with the Lord. When we give of ourselves, there is great satisfaction,” he said. “And what better gift to give him than just a little bit of your time?”

Though these circumstances couldn’t be more different, what is desired is so similar, so simple—a chance to share in the undivided attention of a loved one.

I have always heard that few people remember specific gifts given throughout the years, but time spent with others is never forgotten and certainly never wasted. When the pressure to give the perfect material gift or the excuse of having so much else to do is removed, we realize there is little more precious than time, especially in a world when there never seems to be enough of it. And being together to show our gratitude and friendship is surely the most meaningful.

I have long understood the importance—and joy—of sharing nothing more than an afternoon chat, a cup of tea, or a favorite memory with those I love, though I didn’t consider these experiences like time in Adoration. When I have sat in that chapel kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament or prayed quietly alone at home, I treated it more as Jesus’ gift to me rather than my gift to him. It works both ways, however, for any giver and any recipient can benefit from time spent together.

Eventually, those visits with others must be put on hold, though Jesus, as the very best listener, will allow me yet another cup of chai.