The L-Shaped Room

That is the title of an old movie I was watching recently.  The story is a poor pregnant French girl falls in love with an even poorer English writer.  In one scene, the girl gave the man a Christmas gift. The man declined it and got angry at the woman because he didn’t have a gift to give her.  She explained to him that it didn’t matter to her.  However, it did matter to him.

The interesting thing to me was that I found myself instinctively identifying with this man.  Without even thinking about it, I understood what the man felt and agreed with his response. He should have declined the gift and he should have been able to offer a gift to her.  After all, he’s a man and a man should be able to provide a Christmas gift for the woman he loves.

What does this instinctive response say about me?  It says that somewhere inside of me I don’t like to receive anything unless I have something to give in return. The generosity of the giver reveals my inadequacy to reciprocate.  It shows that I’m lacking.  I don’t have enough.  I am not enough.

I actually don’t have a difficult time admitting that I have nothing to give as long as I don’t have to receive.  I’m more than willing to say I have nothing to give you therefore you shouldn’t give anything to me.  So there is an agreement, an exchange of “not giving.” The thing that bothers me is when someone is not willing to accept this exchange and insists on giving me something when I have nothing to give in return.  Then I feel like I am in debt and I must pay someone back.

This has greater implications for me in areas much more significant than merely receiving things.  It illustrates the way I often respond to the Gospel.  God generously gives me his love, his acceptance, his favor through Jesus and I am sometimes unwilling to receive it because I have nothing to give him back.  His generosity reveals that I am inadequate.  I am lacking.  I don’t have enough and even more significantly, I am not enough.

It is actually not that difficult for me to admit that. When I do, I know that I’m probably getting something in return for my admission.  I’m getting your respect for being so transparent.  I’m receiving your approval for being genuine and noble by confessing my poverty of spirit. You share in my poverty so I’m actually demonstrating that I’m just like everyone else.

The next step however is where I stop short (apologies to Frank Costanza for stealing his move).  The hardest step is not to admit that I have nothing to give but then to actually receive and completely enjoy God’s gift of being reconciled to him.  I feel like I have to give him something in return.  I feel that I have to pay him back while simultaneously knowing that its impossible.

And much like the Englishman in the movie, there are times when I’d rather spurn an intimate relationship Jesus than to receive his love when I’ve got nothing to give in return.

You see, the French woman wasn’t giving the gift to manipulate the man.  It was not to put him in her debt so that he would feel obligated to do whatever he could to make it up.  She didn’t want anything in return except for a relationship with him.  She only wanted him.

Could it be true that God doesn’t give us his love and acceptance to manipulate us?  What if he isn’t interested in the things we can do for him in return for what he has done for us?  Is it possible that what he wants more than anything is us?  Not us in the sense that we are his tools to do with whatever he wants. But what if he just wants us in a love relationship with him?

Has your inability to give anything back to God kept you from enjoying the gift of his relationship today?  Has your failure to give complete devotion, complete surrender, and complete sincerity kept you from receiving the gifts of his acceptance?  Are you stopping short of intimacy with God by admitting your poverty but not receiving the riches of his incomparable love for you today?



  1. Ryan Said:

    Wow, isn’t fun to wrestle with motivations of the mind?

    Ahh, good stuff… Costanza…

  2. Erica Deuel Said:

    I loved this post!!!! I can relate aswell!! On a lighter note…have you seen that episode of The Office where Dwight and Andy go back and forth on doing things for each other??? This totally made me think of it!

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