Consolation Beyond a Smile – Tasting Courage

July 16, 2023

I am not a very adventurous eater. As a lifelong vegetarian, my options are often limited from the start. In unfamiliar settings I wonder about hidden pork fat and disguised fish sauce …steakhouses and seafood restaurants are the worst. I eat the side salad and the roll instead of taking the risk on something that may turn out to be unappetizing or “taste fishy.” My own kids have gone through phases where a food they once loved now elicits a groan and a grimace. I have been accused of not making the pasta sauce “the same way grandma does” and using cheese that “tastes funny” in the quesadillas. We have obviously been in a bit of a rut… 

A few months ago, our family’s entire way of approaching food had to change. One of our children was dealing with escalating symptoms of asthma, eczema, and stomachaches.  No matter what we did, nothing seemed to help. An emergency room visit and several doctors later, we discovered that all symptoms pointed back to a previously undiagnosed milk allergy. Overnight everything changed. No more mac & cheese, pizza, or ice cream. But also no birthday cake at a party that weekend, stress about the treats at the end of the year class picnic, and learning to ask the adults around him a lot of questions. We began clearing out a lot of food in our house (open bags of chocolate chips, Cheez crackers, almost all the granola bars) and figuring out new routines. In the first few weeks, I watched him push a lot of mediocre food around his plate absentmindedly. His disappointment and fear was palpable. Despite the multitude of non-dairy options out there, he still needed some space to process the radical changes to his everyday life. 

The theme of this series is “consolation beyond a smile.”  Where in the midst of our changes was consolation beginning to nudge its way forward? According to Margaret Silf, Spiritual consolation is experienced when our hearts are drawn toward God, even if this happens in circumstances that the world would regard as negative. It is a signal that our hearts, at least for that moment, are beating in harmony with the heart of God.” Being drawn out of our comfort zones (whether in food choices, entertainment, social settings, or even prayer styles) involves taking a leap of courage. Perhaps it will be unpleasant or disappointing? What will happen if I fail? 

I realized that together we would need to take risks and embrace the “yuck” that we were undoubtedly going to come across. We threw away an entire tub of dairy-free cream cheese… It was that awful. There have been quite a few  other duds (particularly in the yogurt and cheese categories), but also so many surprising wins from store-bought chocolate chip cookies to a new pancake recipe to make at home.  

A moment of consolation came in the form of five tasting spoons. After several difficult days, we found a specialty ice cream shop with not one but FIVE dairy-free frozen concoctions. As the attendant patiently handed him sample after sample, he weighed the pros and cons and picked something he truly loved. Instead of focusing on the 26 other flavors that he had proven to come with unpleasant consequences, he marveled at this chance to taste, enjoy, and choose. 

Consolation draws us into a deeper relationship with God, but also with others. In moments of consolation, I see the genuine needs of others more clearly and my attention is directed away from self-pity and despair. On a recent trip to a dietary-conscious market, my son went up and down the aisles reading all the little tags on the food. He took pride in finding new items he could try, but also pointed out things that people with a gluten intolerance could also eat. As he becomes more adept at reading labels, he often asks me to send pictures of things he likes to other people we know with dietary restrictions. We have still had a few pity parties… but there has been great joy in sharing these new discoveries with other people in his life. 

When St. Ignatius writes about praying with our whole senses, he even uses the word “gustar”… to savor, to remember that taste of grace. Tasting something new takes a sense of adventure and a little bit of courage. My son delighting in his ice cream samples has become a touch point of consolation, to truly savor the unexpected gifts from God.

Going Deeper:

Photo by Jan Vasek on Pixabay

Jen Coito was Jesuit-educated in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. She has a Masters in Pastoral Theology with a specialization in Spiritual Direction. After working for the California Province of Jesuits and Christian Life Community, Jen and Fr. Tri Dinh, S.J co-founded Christus Ministries, an outreach that bridges young adults and the Church through service, retreats, and leadership formation experiences. Jen also serves the Sisters of Notre Dame in California as the Associate Director of Mission Advancement. Daily life involves juggling her work with awesome nuns and the constant stream of activities with her husband Jason and three children.

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