Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 6th
When it comes to food, my family is pretty hard to beat.
This past Thanksgiving was especially remarkable. Our menu featured eleven (yes, eleven) dishes: roasted turkey, twice-baked potatoes, two kinds of pie, broccoli salad, stuffing…the list went on. On any other year, when family or friends would be coming to share in the festivities, this amount of food might not seem so extraordinary. However, this Thanksgiving, it was only my parents, siblings, and I gathered to celebrate with eleven dishes for six people. We labored all day, and once every dish was done, the sheer quantity of food was almost comical. After a few minutes of snapping pictures (why would anyone want to forget such a grand feast?) we did what any normal family would do: we ate as much as we could.
And oh, was it delicious.
All this may seem excessive to anyone who is unfamiliar with my family. Growing up, we had dinner together almost every night. Every now and then, my mom would take my siblings and me on adventures into New York City, where we would hunt for the best ramen, Italian restaurant, or doughnut shop. Eating is central to my family’s life, and yet the food itself is not the end of the story. In my household, food is an expression of love. It brings us together, symbolizing our mutual commitment to caring for one another. Indeed, my entire childhood was spent in a home where everything I could possibly need—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—was provided in abundance.
This is why my first semester at Harvard was not easy. While I knew that college would be different from my life at home, I could not have foreseen the loneliness, homesickness, and anxiety that plagued my first two months of school. Once the initial excitement of Opening Days faded, I was slammed with the harsh realities of work, grades, and competition. Huge questions about who I am, where I draw my confidence from, and my hopes for the future began to emerge. While I faced no external pressure from my parents, my own expectations felt paralyzing as I faced this new reality. I missed my family and friends, and basic comforts like home-cooked meals were no longer accessible. For the first time in my life, I began to experience true, panic-inducing anxiety.
It was in the midst of all of this that I reached out to God for help. I could not provide for myself in the ways that I had grown accustomed to in high school, and so I turned to the One who created me. In turn, God boldly answered my every plea in ways far greater than I could have imagined. Truths that I had grown up knowing gained new dimension through experience as His strength filled and sustained me. For the first time ever, I experienced indescribable joy that transcended my circumstances. Slowly but surely, all of the questions I had been wrestling with were answered. Both God’s assurance of my eternal salvation and His promises for my future eliminated any cause for anxiety.
For me, the story of today’s Gospel, Matthew 15:32-37, hits home because it portrays the physical and spiritual provision that I have received from the Lord. In this passage, Jesus feeds four thousand followers. Perceiving their hunger after three days of preaching and healing, He calls His disciples to gather food, though they are in a barren place with nothing but seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. The disciples distribute their meager supplies, and miraculously, everyone ends up satisfied. Indeed, Christ provides more than enough; there are seven baskets of food left over.
As this passage indicates, experiencing need is central to being human. Throughout this semester, my need was rooted in my insufficiency as a freshman at Harvard. For the four thousand, need was hunger in a barren setting. Our greatest need as sinners who fall short of God’s perfection is that we cannot save ourselves or this fallen world. Such needs seem overwhelming, and yet the Lord uses difficult circumstances and personal shortcomings to draw us to Himself. Advent is a season in which we eagerly anticipate God’s ultimate act of provision: sending Christ, God incarnate, the Bread of Life. Christ came down to earth that He might be with us, die on the cross to cover all of our insufficiencies, and provide a path to salvation and redemption.
My first two months at Harvard brought vivid color to these truths, but little did I know that there was yet another lesson waiting for me over Thanksgiving break. As I basked in the comforts of family and food, I started to become irritable and sullen. At home, everything I could humanly want or need was provided for in abundance. This ease made me less aware of my insufficiencies and, as a result, less desiring of the Lord’s comforting presence. Ultimately, my internal joy had been lost amidst the external luxuries of home.
The four thousand people that Jesus fed probably had similar experiences. After being amazed by Christ’s miraculous provision, their hunger undoubtedly wore off. They must have traveled home as memories of Christ’s presence grew distant, and with this distance they likely grew spiritually complacent. Such is the paradoxical nature of earthly comfort: we desire it, yet in it we lose our need for God and thus the richness of His provision.
I came back from Thanksgiving break a couple pounds heavier and much wiser. I finally understood that, for the time being, I would only be able to experience the magnitude of God’s spiritual bounty amidst school’s daily challenges. Harvard may be a difficult place, but it has been a place of sanctification. I sat down in Annenberg for my first meal back with full confidence in these truths. My HUDS salad was a far cry from my family’s Thanksgiving feast, but I dug in nevertheless.
And oh, was it delicious.
Ana Yee ’21 is a freshman in Hollis Hall.