As I looked out my kitchen window last Saturday getting lunch ready for my girls, I decided to powerfully transform the rich nutrition of “mac and cheese and brats” with some healthy apple slices.  I pulled out the cutting board and absentmindedly began the dull job of cleaning and slicing the apple, chopping off the core in strips, one piece at a time…

And then it dawned on me–I was cutting out the core to make the apple more palatable for my girls–avoiding the whiny battle over seeds and core bits.  I remove the irritating obstacle by offering them just the good, sweet and juicy parts…

Are you kidding me? When I was a kid, I relished every bit of my apple, core and all–just like my mom taught me (she also gnawed on chicken bones to suck the marrow out…grateful I didn’t adopt that one!)  When I got finished with my apples, I would even nibble at the woody stem–that was usually all that was left by the time I was done.  What has happened to me as a dad? Something’s been lost in translation.

While I do think it’s a natural human instinct to protect my children from pain and suffering, I don’t think it’s at all Christian.

I had a conversation with a youth pastor in Wisconsin recently who characterized the current generation of young people he’s working with as “the one with the gold stars on their heads”.  He said kids today actually believe they deserve the best and brightest, because they are entitled to such treatment whether they’ve earned it or not (their dads probably cut the core out, too…).  Like Stuart Smalley used to say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, gosh-darn-it, people like me”.

As I grow up as a dad, I am slowly realizing that one of the most significant gifts I can allow my children to experience offer my is an unabashedly accurate picture of the broken world they live in.  I’m not protecting them by protecting them front it. In fact, I’m probably making it worse for them in the end…

My daughter Anna recently twisted her toe by clipping it on our bannister rail upstairs.  As she fell into a weepy ball on the carpet clutching her throbbing toe, she asked for my help.  Since there’s nothing you can really do for toes, I tenderly told her–as her deeply compassionate father– to “suck it up and walk it off”.

The next day, with her toe growing increasingly black and blue, she relayed the drama of the whole incident to Karyn, informing her mom how I had so “compassionately” come to her rescue.  And, after telling Karyn about the simple instructions I gave her to feel better (“suck it up and walk it off”)–with a look of complete bewilderment–she asked Karyn, “Mom, what does that even mean?”

I cannot spare my children from suffering or pain in this world.  Neither should I cause them pain or suffering (even though I frequently do with my selfish, sinful choices).  But allowing pain to happen to them–difficult as it might be for me to watch as their dad–mines their spiritual gold.  After all, suffering is the critical temperature at which the mettle of Christian character is forged.  In this Lenten season, I’m reminded how Jesus refused to protect himself from pain for the sake of His children.

In the end, not cutting the core out of apples is the least of my children’s worries.  When it comes to the real, painful consequences of living in a world broken by original sin–bullies on the playground, bad grades for lack of effort, wretched bus rides to and from school, honest discussions about the brain cancer that used to be in their dad’s head–these things test my children, forges their character and enables them to engage their peers and their world more realistically–more like Christ would.