I have absolutely no doubt that, over the years, family life has been by far the most effective tool in the hands of God for transforming me into a less selfish, more loving person.
I am by nature a very selfish, self-centred person. As a teenager I was an extreme introvert (I was the guy who would withdraw to his room and read a book when we had company), and I was never more ‘myself’ than when I was existing inside my own head. I’ve always preferred doing what ‘I’ wanted to do, and have always resented the time I have to spend doing things other people want me to do.
Now, I don’t claim to have made major progress on this one, but I am sure I’ve made some progress. Getting married involves making a major adjustment to one’s personal autonomy; you love this person, and you promise to love this person, and you can’t fulfil that promise without making a major frontal attack on your own selfishness and self-centredness. You have to learn to think in terms of ‘us’, rather than ‘me’. And then along come the kids, and before long you find yourself wondering what you did with all that free time and money before the kids came along (I got married at twenty and we had out first child at twenty-one; I couldn’t afford to buy a guitar I really liked until I was in my forties, and I got my Larrivée, the guitar I’d been dreaming about since 1977, in 2008, my 50th year).
Spiritual growth has always come for me in times when I’ve learned to see other people, not as a distraction from God, but as an opportunity to meet God and serve him. Loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbour as yourself is what it’s all about. And for me, family life has been by far the most effective place to learn to do that.