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the corrections

August 16, 2011

Yesterday I finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. It’s a story about power struggle, manipulation, depression, depravity and individual triumph – all within the context of family. Alfred and Enid Lambert and their three grown children – Gary, Chip, and Denise – struggle internally and externally to make sense of their lives and to understand, even correct, past mistakes. Because the story is filled with both beautiful and unbearably difficult moments, it is hard to press on through the emotional roller coaster. But if you’re able, the reward is rich.

As responsible as this family is for each other’s dysfunction, they love one another. They express concern at times and even inconvenience themselves for the sake of the other.

What is tragic, however, is that love within the family is never really experienced. They simultaneously want deep relationship and distance. They long for each other but fight to stay apart. To me, the heart of the Lambert problem is that their love is conditional or, at least, perceived to be. Conditional love is not life enhancing love. In fact, it drains. Though the family works to correct such a relational dynamic, they never break the pattern. So, in many ways, the story of the Lamberts is one of love that always has an angle, which, in the end, is not life changing or enhancing love.

Tim Keller, in King’s Cross, talks about true and false love. False love is when our aim is to use the other person to fulfill our own happiness whereas true love is when our aim is to spend ourselves and use ourselves for the happiness of the other, “because (our) greatest joy is the person’s joy.”

How did I get from Franzen to Keller? Relationships flourish when pursuing true love and relationships deteriorate when they don’t.

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