Rationing Love

Tuesday After Epiphany, January 5, 2021

I think the stuffed animals are reproducing; every time I turn around, there are more of them. They stare at me from under the couch. They hide under the blankets on the beds. They lurk inside every backpack and tote bag. Even before I get out of bed in the morning, they are waiting for me. I am being haunted, not by ghosts but by “stuffies.” 

Unfortunately my loathing of the stuffies is inversely proportional to my children’s love of them. Each stuffy has an elaborate origin story: “Cottonball” the penguin that lives inside a plastic snowball, “Alora” who migrated here from outer space; or the magical Easter bunny that has made it past Christmas and into January. A short drive to Grandma’s involves a backpack and a doll stroller stuffed with “pets”. I once asked, “Do you think we need all this for such a short drive?” To which I got the response: “Grandma would miss them if they did not come.” Fair point. 

Writing this post, I have been interrupted with urgent requests to wrap a baby leopard in a swaddle blanket and tie it up with a pink ribbon. I don’t comply out of concern that the baby leopard is catching a chill, but because caring for this “pet” is a way that my daughter practices giving and receiving love. She thinks about its comfort and imagines its life. I would like her to have one special stuffed animal that she keeps on her bed and then get rid of all the rest. So far she has vehemently rejected my idea. 

At 4-years-old, I already know her mind does not work like mine. What energizes her and gives her life is unique. She is not my “mini me,” but her own person. She comes up a lot in my prayer (and these reflections) because she challenges me to love better. She comes up with responses, suggestions, and ideas that I never could have imagined. She rattles whatever small sense of control I feel over my life. Objectively speaking, I don’t want dozens of stuffed animals crammed in every nook and cranny of my house. They have not been evicted because I see how much joy caring for them brings her. (Down the road, I will probably regret allowing her to hoard them for this long.) The stuffies are one visible reminder of the expansive nature of love. Her loving expands my loving. 

In today’s Gospel, the Apostles look around and see the people hungry and tired. They cannot imagine being able to feed and care for these masses. They feel powerless to solve this problem. Jesus challenges them to look beyond the obvious solutions, to make space for love to enter in and multiply what is already there. Whether it was a miracle of matter or a miracle of heart, somehow there was enough food for all. God’s love is like this: abundant, overflowing, and gratuitous. 

Like the Apostles, I lose my way, wandering around in my overly analytical brain. I question my own decisions. I doubt that the voice I hear comes from God. I struggle to take a step forward in forgiveness. I allow love to be small, to be rationed, so that there is enough leftover for me. 

Sometimes my daughter piles all these dozens of stuffed animals on her bed at once and snuggles into them. Bunnies, dogs, pandas, cats: all of God’s creatures jumbled together. They cover her limbs and she pokes her face out just enough. What if I just dove into God’s love with such reckless abandon? 

Published by jencoito

Jen Coito is a California native with diverse experience in parish, academic, and national ministry settings. She has a Masters in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University. She worked for the California Province of Jesuits for seven years promoting Christian Life Community on university campuses and other diverse ethnic settings. Jen has collaborated on the creation of formation materials, discernment tools, and small group processes that are being used around the country in Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, and English. In 2013, Jen and Jesuit priest Fr. Tri Dinh co-founded Christus Ministries out of a desire to engage local young adults and form young-adult friendly parishes. Jen works for the Sisters of Notre Dame in California as the Associate Director of Mission Advancement. Jen, Jason, and their three children live in Southern California. You can read more of Jen's writings at www.jencoito.com.

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