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27 June 2013

Growing love

Growing love

Sophie Lister explores The Odd Life of Timothy Green...

Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) live in a beautiful house in the idyllic town of Stanleyville. But something's missing in their lives: they have been desperate for a baby for a very long time. When their doctor tells them that it won't be possible, they decide that it's finally time to let go. They spend the evening writing down their dreams for their wished- for child: personality traits, gifts and talents. Then, they fold up the pieces of paper and bury them in a box in the garden.

However, the gesture – which is intended to end their hopes of parenthood – instead becomes the beginning of something extraordinary. In the middle of the night, a storm shakes the house and Jim and Cindy are astonished to find that a little boy has appeared from nowhere and entered their lives. His name is Timothy and he instantly feels like part of the family. His unique outlook on life will challenge not only his new parents, but the whole community in which he lives.

Impossible standards

With Timothy's arrival, Cindy and Jim must confront the contrast between their expectations of parenthood and the messier reality. At first, they are so determined to give their new son a perfect childhood that they limit his freedoms, trying to shelter him and anticipate his mistakes before he can make them. But it soon becomes clear that they're parenting out of insecurity, trying to compensate for their own failures and regrets. Their wishes brought Timothy to life, but in order to be the best kind of parents, they must let him be himself. It's an interesting reflection on our tendency to try and shape other people into our own image. In an era of designer babies – and in a society in which many children struggle to find adoptive homes because of their perceived flaws and scars – it's clearly a temptation for some parents to want 'perfect' children. If we see our children as an extension of ourselves, rather than people in their own right, we risk setting impossible standards for them. Whether or not we're parents, it's easy to try and turn the significant people in our lives into personal wish-fulfilment.

In doing this, we can end up needing and using them more than loving them. To truly love someone, we must make room for their beliefs, reactions, experiences and desires, and prioritise their good above our own. As the writer Iris Murdoch once said: "Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real."

Adopted into the family

The Odd Life of Timothy Green raises the question of what really constitutes unconditional love. Timothy himself is clearly able to see what's really going on with the people around him, but this doesn't stop him from loving them. He doesn't get hung up on people's differences, but immediately crosses barriers to relate to them and values them just as they are. Following Timothy's example, Cindy, Jim and the rest of the community begin to learn about this kind of love too. In this respect, as well as others, Timothy's time with the Greens echoes the story of Jesus, who indiscriminately included the outsiders in his society, accepted the ostracised, and forgave those who had done wrong. His unconditional love for these 'unloveable' people set a whole new template for our relationships and demonstrated that God isn't holding out for us to be perfect children before He loves us. In fact, we're told that, if we rely on our perfection to gain His acceptance, none of us can ever measure up: "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Romans 3:23). Instead God "adopts us into His own family" (Ephesians 1:5) because of His perfect love for us; and from there we're set free to love others in the same way. What kind of transformational impact could this love have on us and on those around us? The film suggests that its power will only grow and grow. 

Sophie Lister is a researcher and writer for The Damaris Trust. For more articles and study guides see www.culturewatch.org and www.toolsfortalks.com

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is released on DVD this summer

For free resources see www.damaris.org/timothygreen

For more on the Alliance's adoption and fostering campaign, visit www.homeforgood.org.uk

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