How to Find Belonging and Joy
In People of the Deer, author Farley Mowat writes about his experience of living among the last surviving people of the Ihalmiut in the tundra of northern Canada. A people who lived traditionally and almost entirely off the migrating caribou herds, they had warmly welcomed Mowat into their camp.
Farley was delighted by the opportunity to learn from and experience the way these unknown and isolated people lived, but there was a significant problem: He spoke no Ihalmiut, nor did they speak any English. Initially, they communicated brokenly through an interpreter who had learned some of their dialects, but the man was leaving the Barrens for good. It seemed pointless for Mowat to stay if communication was not possible.
Mowat made a decision: despite being told that their language was complex and incredibly difficult to master, he would learn it, as best he could.
This decision became the pivotal point in the relationship between him and the Ihalmiut people.
He writes that when he acted out his desire to learn their language to the two Ihalmiut men who had befriended him, the effect was astonishing. Once they understood what he meant, they in turn emphatically and repeatedly acted out complete acceptance of him as an adopted member of their people, claiming that he was now one of the Ihalmiut.
Humbled and deeply moved by the unexpected love these people showed an outsider, Mowat resolved to study their language with great effort. He was surprised to find, in the months following, he was able to make rapid progress and began communicating quickly. He was pleased by the seeming ease with which he mastered the basics of their language.
Somewhat arrogant about his success, Mowat tells of an encounter about a year later: Encountering a man who was a member of another related people group, he casually made a long, complicated remark in Ihalmiut – and was met with utter bewilderment. The man had no idea what Mowat was saying: it was unintelligible gibberish.
Mowat came to realize the stunning truth: the people of the Ihalmiut had deliberately created an extremely simplified version of their language to allow him to communicate with them.
Not only had this “pidgin” Ihalmiut been developed and used by the two men who were his self-assigned tutors, they had made sure the entire tribe used this simplified form of language!
The Ihalmiut language was incredibly sophisticated, with many distinct nuances and multiple precise tenses – all of which would have been too hard for him. He would have given up in discouragement immediately if he had tried to learn their language as it actually was.
Because of the love of these people for a complete stranger, and their whole-hearted acceptance and kindness in adopting him as family, they all willingly changed their language to allow him to live among them.
This is a story of unconditional love, undeserved kindness, and grace.
This is also a picture of the breath-taking love God has shown us.
In stunning kindness to us, this all-powerful, all-knowing Being chose to create a “pidgin” language to help communicate with us – He came to us as a human, Jesus Christ.
His Spirit inspired men to write in human words to help us attempt to comprehend Him, His character, and explain His glory. Yet even the most exquisite words can give only a feeble sense of His nature, His worth, His power and holiness.
It is when we make a decision to pursue a relationship with Him that everything we previously knew shifts. He knows we cannot grasp the extent of His greatness. He knows that we cannot fully comprehend the magnitude of His worth. But when we have taken that first step of stating our desire for relationship with Him despite the impossible challenge – He sees our feeble attempt and roars with joy as He rushes to meet us.
As we move toward Him, awkward and faltering, He exuberantly reaches out to us with His arms wide open and an enormous smile of joyous welcome. Declaring we are His forever and assuredly a member of His family, we are loved and accepted completely and finally.
There is no percentage in this relationship we can take any credit for – He gave us life, gave us the desire to seek Him, and then enabled the connection through Jesus’ sacrifice. This is no “lion’s share” of relationship. This is the entire share.
Why? Because He is love (1 John 4:8-10). And encountering this mind-blowing loveliness of God is what give us our greatest joy, deepest delight, and purest pleasure (Psalm 16:11, 36:8).
May we all come to a place where we, though awkward, stammering outsiders, experience the richness of love and kindness that makes us family with our King, though we have done nothing to deserve it.
The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14, NLT