In the well-known 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. The love Paul evokes in these words is child-like. Boundaries between self and the other disappear. The burdens and beliefs of the beloved are mine, and mine are hers, or his.
Later in the same chapter, Paul writes that when he became an adult, he put away childish things. This seems to be the case. The Paul we meet in his letters comes across as enviably self-contained and self-defined, with clear and precise expectations of himself and others.
Yet this same Paul also writes, in the same letter, that he has “become all things to all people” – as one under the law among fellow Jews, as one freed from the law among Gentiles. It is as if he casts aside his hard-won self-definition in order to reach, as he would say, all for whom Christ died.
It’s impossible to love without boundaries, without self-definition. In the grip of such love, each yearns to be absorbed by, or absorb, the other, a recipe for the annihilation of love. Neither, though, can there be love without the willingness to set aside carefully-tended self-definition for the sake of connection, communion, intimacy. In love, neither the child nor the adult within can, or should, be disentangled from the other.