What is love? Love has no ego. Love and ego are antithetical. Diametrically opposed to one another. Foreign languages one to another. Ego equally has no love but is all pretense and self-preservation.

This quote from Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) summarizes this well:

We have a whole secondary self we put on to deal with circumstance, but inside we are immature, and we know our frailty. Poet Ted Hughes, in a letter to his son, explains this beautifully:

“Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child…

It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it.

So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’.

But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But when they too, sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.

Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced.

Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient-seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.”

The Pharisees were whitewashed tombs because they had invested so much time and energy and effort into building this secondary self, which is the one we see in churches, no less than in boardrooms. In observing the secondary self, Hughes was perhaps unwittingly describing the Old Adam. And the Law when it functions properly exists to destroy and dismantle the armor, leaving the child vulnerable, afraid within. Hughes continues: “And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears.”

Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints)

Less ego would no doubt make for better relational engagement especially in the realm of romance, dating, marriage where it can often feel as though one must trade dignity for genuine intimacy. It is true that the extent to which we can make ourselves vulnerable, drop our defenses, become less guarded, and be totally transparent determines our capacity to receive and experience love. And that’s the dilemma: if I could just freely give of myself, open myself to the possibility of loss, disappointment, misuse, being misunderstood, being embarrassed, etc., I could know greater depths of the one thing for which we were created and for which we all desperately seek and which we all desperately crave: being known. I could enjoy my relationships more if I weren’t so worried about being chumped, played, not reciprocated, etc. Consider the following from C.S. Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

I have heard it said that once a person knows their identity in Christ, they can now love without worrying about getting anything in return. While this is a nice ideal and I wish it worked functionally…it’s not reality. Even with Jesus, I still worry about protecting myself. Even with the Spirit’s help, I can’t always overcome or get my ego in check. Or, as Paul puts it so aptly in Romans 7, although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. So, what do we do? Or better yet…what is love?

Love is Jesus being humiliated, mocked, slapped, spit on. Love is Jesus being taken advantage of, derided, misused, taken for granted…and then turning around giving us everything! Love is this record, imputed to loveless, egoistic megalomaniacs like us. You’re free.