November 21, 2008

The Joyful Catholic / Rick Hermann

Like Jesus, love people first, teach them later

Rick Hermann If someone you know is difficult to teach, this story is for you.

I had the good fortune recently to be seated at dinner next to a popular and beloved old priest.

Digging for gold, I asked him about his early years.

“My first job,” he replied, “was teaching high school. I hated the noise and confusion. But once I discovered the secret of teaching, I loved it.”

I looked up from my salad and asked, “OK, what is the secret?”

He smiled and said, “I discovered that once my students knew I loved them, I could teach them anything.”

That discovery, he explained, was the most valuable lesson in his life, better than anything he learned in seminary, and the secret to his success and joy as a priest.

As dinner ended, I thanked him wholeheartedly.

Driving home that night, I pondered his words in amazement. This is not the way of the world, I thought, this is the wisdom of Jesus.

This is how we are taught by the Greatest Teacher Who Ever Lived. He loves us first then later he teaches us.

A kind lady who runs a popular daycare program voices the same wisdom. When asked how she does it, she says, “I just show all the children how much I love them, then we get along just fine.”

Our human nature is fallen and rebellious. Stubborn as mules, we need to be convinced and won over before we open our minds and hearts.

Lifeless as Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, we need God to reach out and touch us.

Each of us needs the love of God to awaken us from darkness and give us life.

In other words, we are able to love and learn only after we are first loved by God.

As St. John says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

I remember how difficult it was for me when I first started teaching, and how it became easy when I realized I was not the most important person in the classroom.

My students showed me it is not about me. They practically hollered in my ear: I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.

This is confirmed by my friend, Charlie Hiemenz, an all-time favorite third-grade teacher. He says, “No one believes the message until they believe in the messenger.”

If someone in your life is difficult to teach, perhaps you need to show them more love.

“There can be no rules without relationship,” declares John McDowell, the premier speaker to teenagers across the United States.

Great minds think alike, don’t they?

The best teachers, coaches, parents and friends practice this wisdom.

First, we must earn the respect and trust of others by ministering to them and their families. Only then can we bring up the lesson we wish to teach.

King David, one of the wisest men who ever lived, became a student of God by first pleading, “Let me hear your loving kindness in the morning” (Ps 143:8). Later, he said, “I trust you. Teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul” (Ps 143:8).

David needed God’s love first. Then he trusted him.

When Jesus was asked what we must do to inherit eternal life, he emphasized love. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Lk 10:27).

So the next time you want to get your point across to somebody, do it like Jesus does: Love first, teach later.

(Rick Hermann of St. Louis is a Catholic author and career coach. His e-mail address is

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