Dear Ivy: Give

My Dear Ivy,

I’ve spent the last few days talking about desires – having them, pursuing them, and achieving them. But remember what we talked about back in the first few letters – with regard to intimacy? One of the points of this process of understanding and pursuing your desires is so that you can understand and feel the joy of fulfillment. But on the other side of that fulfullment is the ability to share your fully-realized self with others.

These aren’t just any letters I’m writing to you. They’re Christmas letters. And Christmas is, first and foremost, about giving generously to those you love, as God gave the gift of his Son to his beloved creation, that first Christmas.

This is something I want you to understand: One of the key reasons behind all of the advice in all of these letters is to set you up for success – not just so that you can sit on it and revel in it for its own sake, but so that you are in a better position to give to those you love.

I really like the analogy that you and I have probably explored by the time you read this, of the “invisible bucket” – the notion that we all have an “invisible bucket” that is filled when our needs are met, and emptied when they’re not. You will probably have heard your mom and I talk about “filling each other’s buckets.” And one of the key ideas behind this conceptualization is that, as you help someone else fill their bucket by meeting their needs, your bucket gets filled, too!

As I said in my letter about helping each other, we are social creatures with an innate need for each other. So giving of the joy and achievements you have gained, to meet the needs of another, is a way of meeting your own needs and the collective needs of the relationship between you as well.

Now, keep in mind what I wrote earlier about boundaries. There will be people who attempt to convince you that you are obligated to meet their needs – to give, of your own accomplishments, what they are unwilling to pursue themselves.

On the other hand, remember what I said earlier about the privilege that comes with your upbringing, your social status, and even the color of your skin? There are some people who simply don’t have all the tools you have, to pursue their own dreams. They’re not unwilling to do so – they just can’t in the same way you can.

Those are the people I want you to be thinking about. Those are the people whose buckets you will be in a position to help fill. Those are the opportunities for which I want you to be on the lookout.

There is a big difference between giving to someone who is unwilling to do for themselves, and someone who is unable to do for themselves. And there are lots and lots of people who fall into both categories. The former is giving in to “should” and letting someone else control your choices. The latter is freely and voluntarily giving in a way that meets both sets of needs.

And once again, it’s up to you to work through which is which. And once again, there will be times you get it wrong.

And once again, that’s ok. 

You won’t be able to meet everybody’s needs. It just isn’t possible. Don’t feel shame or guilt or failure because there are some needs you cannot meet – so long as you’re giving where and when you can. It’s not your job to meet everyone’s needs, all the time. But it is your job to make sure that people know their needs matter – not just that they “matter” in the abstract, but that they matter to you.

By the same token, there will be people who succeed in convincing or manipulating you into doing for them what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. And that’s ok, too. Chalk those ones up to trying your best, and perhaps meeting a need that someone else could have met on their own, but was more easily able to meet with your help. Don’t make a lifestyle out of letting people manipulate you like this, but don’t be ashamed when it happens on occasion, either. Because it will.

Give where you can, when you can, what you can, to those who genuinely need it. It’s back to that Golden Rule again: “Do for others what you would have them do for you.”

And as we discussed at the top of this letter, you’ve already been a recipient of the greatest gift ever given – the gift of God to be born inside the universe of his own creation, as a helpless human infant, to grow up as a downtrodden commoner, and eventually to be falsely accused and killed – so that he could reconcile us, you and me and anyone else who asks it of Him – to an eternal relationship with Him.

After being given a gift so literally earth-shaking, how can we do anything but pass it on to others in whatever measure we’re able?

I love you,


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