top of page


Have you ever been in the presence of someone who lives in a truly grateful way? I mean someone who is grateful to be alive, grateful for the people in her or his life, and grateful for God’s presence, and sees the world around her or him with appreciation and joy?



I’ve had the privilege of meeting quite a number of these people as a pastor, spiritual director, therapist, and more. What makes them special is that when we’re around them, they have the ability to make us feel good about our own lives.


I had a simple realization years ago about the difference between hopeful and cynical people: cynical, pessimistic people suck energy out of us. Grateful, appreciative people give energy to us. You’ve experienced this. Think about times when you’ve had to listen to someone crab about his or her life—about politics, religion, people, bosses, spouses, teachers, his or her lot in life. You get trapped listening to them as they gain more and more energy from their growing anger, while you become more and more drained. Now think about the times you’ve spent with someone who is truly grateful, joyful, and positive. You feel more energized, more hopeful, more… possible. Gratitude gives energy. Cynicism sucks energy.


When I think about living a grateful life, I think about Sallie, a woman whose funeral I did years ago when I was her pastor. I had visited her often as her health declined over a ten-year period. Even in declining health she was an absolute joy to be around. Her arthritis and other ailments made it very hard for her to get around. Still, no matter how bad things got for her, she never complained. Even in the last years of her life, as macular degeneration took away her ability to read (her living room was stacked with cherished devotional books and magazines), she still had hope. She once told me that even though she couldn’t read, she still took comfort from all that she had learned from them.


Sallie was a bright light. Whenever I visited her, I tried to bring her some sense of comfort, but in reality she gave me more comfort and joy than I think I ever brought her. I often drove home feeling as though I had been in the presence of a great sage.

Her outlook on life was rooted in a deep sense of gratitude. She was grateful for her life. She was grateful for her children. She was grateful for her husband who had died so many years earlier. Sallie lived a life of gratitude even in the midst of difficulty.


I don’t want to give the impression that people like Sallie are perfect and live pain-free. They aren’t and they don’t. They make mistakes, parts of their lives can be messed up, and they struggle just like everyone else does. It’s just that people like Sallie choose to react differently to the struggles of the world than most of us. They can go through severe struggles, but they grow from them each time and they find meaning and purpose in them.


I look around and I see a world filled with miserable people. They’re not necessarily miserable because of the conditions of their lives, although their conditions often contribute to their misery. I see an attitude of misery reflected in the darkness of present movies, television, and novels nowadays. I see it on social media as people argue, complain, criticize, and crab about everything, especially during this pandemic. I see it in parents who constantly criticize their children, only seeing what’s wrong with them, what they don’t do, and how disappointed they are in them. I see this same dynamic in too many marriages, where over time it becomes easier to be critical of our spouses than complimentary. Life wears us down, as do relationships. Still, cynicism is a relationship killer. Good marriages, parenting, and lives are built on laughter, smiles, appreciation, and gratitude. Bad marriages are built on indifference, cynicism, and criticism.

The struggle of life is to see it with appreciative eyes rather than depreciative ones. Depreciative people diminish life by only seeing what’s wrong in the world around them. They’ll justify their cynicism and negativity by saying that we live in a hard world, and that they’re just being realistic. The reality is that they aren’t living in a cold, hard world. They’re just choosing to make it cold and hard.


Parts of life can be cold, ugly, and hard, but it still is wonderful, beautiful, joyful, and hopeful. Many people truly live in horrific, terrible conditions. At Samaritan we do our best to help these people make choices to transform them and their conditions. It’s hard work. Part of what we also do is help people see with different eyes, helping them to see what’s right, not just what’s wrong; what’s good, not just what’s bad; what they can do, not just what they can’t; what’s light, not just what’s dark; what’s possible, not just what’s impossible.


In my life I constantly return to what a great spiritual writer, David Steindl-Rast, says in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: “What counts on your path to fulfillment is that we remember the great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us: everything is gratuitous, everything is gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness . . . In moments when we are truly alive, we experience life as a gift. We also experience life as surprise.”


Blessings,


Executive Director


17 views0 comments

The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

Executive Director and Director of Caring for Clergy and Congregations


At Samaritan, we constantly emphasize that we offer spiritually integrated psychotherapy. It’s at the core of almost everything we do. It’s foundational to our guiding vision: “For those who silently suffer with emotional, relational, or spiritual pain, we offer compassionate care that helps them heal, gives them hope, and allows them to change.” It’s what makes us stand out among all other counseling centers.

Still, what does it mean that we’re spiritually integrated? We walk a path between religious counseling that sometimes embraces a stringent, restrictive biblical and theological perspective, and secular counseling that often doesn’t know what spirituality really is.


Our therapists represent a variety of religious perspectives—Protestant, Catholic, Non-Denominational, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and other faiths; as well as a variety of ideological perspectives—conservative, moderate, and progressive. This variety enables us to help people engage their own traditions in ways that open them to God’s healing in and through therapy, without imposing a particular religious perspective. So, while we are open spiritually, we remain client-centered. We never use therapy as a conversion tool, nor force people to integrate spirituality into their therapy.

Our path isn’t an easy one because some would insist we adopt only their religious perspective, while others would want us to get rid of religious influences entirely. For us, excellence means being grounded in well-researched and proven therapeutic techniques, while also being spiritually open to something beyond ourselves that can heal minds, hearts, and relationships. It’s why we also offer life coaching and spiritual direction, in addition to therapy.

How do we walk this path? Let me give you an example. Last year I received a referral from a pastor who had previously sent a couple to a “Christian” therapist. The husband had been abusing the wife emotionally and physically. According to the pastor, the “Christian” therapist told the couple that the core of their problem was not being biblical enough. He said that the wife was not being obedient enough to the husband, which was causing friction, while the husband was not cherishing his wife enough, leading to his abuse. The therapist wanted to help her obey him better, while teaching him to cherish her more, which he hoped would stop the abuse. In the end the abuse continued because the “Christian” therapist didn’t protect her or deal with the abuse.


How do we walk this path? Let me give you an example. Last year I received a referral from a pastor who had previously sent a couple to a “Christian” therapist. The husband had been abusing the wife emotionally and physically. According to the pastor, the “Christian” therapist told the couple that the core of their problem was not being biblical enough. He said that the wife was not being obedient enough to the husband, which was causing friction, while the husband was not cherishing his wife enough, leading to his abuse. The therapist wanted to help her obey him better, while teaching him to cherish her more, which he hoped would stop the abuse. In the end the abuse continued because the “Christian” therapist didn’t protect her or deal with the abuse.

How are we different? We deal with the abuse, focusing on the safety of the wife and children, and helping her become stronger psychologically and spiritually to make better life decisions. We also make him fully aware that the abuse cannot continue, and he has to change and grow. In this case, safety and healing is more important than the marriage. I assured the pastor that our therapists are centered in what’s best for everyone involved in a way that leads to healing whether in the marriage or beyond it. The spiritual integration we might practice (in addition to the counseling) is asking the wife what God is seeking for her that can lead to safety and healing, which may or may not include staying in the marriage. For him it would be emphasizing anger management and life changes, which could include a deeper spiritual awareness leading to a transformation of his life, whether in the marriage or beyond it.


Another example: I was called by a Roman Catholic woman who had been seeing a secular therapist for what she called “life issues”—concerns that her life wasn’t fulfilling. She told me that she liked her therapist, but the therapist seemed particularly anti-Catholic; and that the therapist’s “spiritual” approach was limited to teaching mindfulness and meditation (both good practices, but not necessarily responsive to the client’s issues). I told her that our therapists are more likely to explore psychologically how she can find meaning and purpose in her life, while also tapping into a sense of God’s calling and her Catholic faith to see how it can guide her in enhancing a sense of meaning and purpose.

We recognize that religion and spirituality aren’t necessarily the same thing, but that everyone’s religious tradition has practices, insights, and opportunities that can help them grow personally, which leads to healing.

Healing IS the key. So much research has been done showing that people who are more open spiritually live healthier lives. And integrating spirituality into therapy aids therapy and leads to greater satisfaction with counseling. We see ourselves as a healing place where hidden wounds are cared for and healed so that people can live happier, healthier lives.



17 views1 comment

The Rev. Dr. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA Executive Director and Director of Caring for Clergy and Congregations


When I was still pastoring Calvin Presbyterian Church, I had met with a young couple who were joining our

congregation. They had mostly given up after months of searching for the right church. Finally, the husband said to her, “That’s it! No more church-shopping. I’m done with religion!” She begged him to try one more church, our church, at the insistence of her stepmother. He relented grudgingly. After the service they both decided we were “it”. I asked them what changed. He said, “I finally felt like I experienced God in church.”


Not everyone had these experiences with us, but enough did that we steadily grew over my 22 years there. What made the difference? We intentionally tried to cultivate the experience of God in everything we did. We recognized that people in our culture are yearning to experience God, and they’ll look elsewhere in the secular realm when they don’t find it with us.


Okay, but don’t people experience God through our typical Presbyterian worship? Perhaps, but those who do are literally a dying breed. Traditional churches are designed for experiences catering to generations that are passing away, not for people of today. Few pastors or laity stop to wonder what experiences resonate with today’s generations.

So instead of missionally asking how we change so they can experience God with us, we criticize them for rejecting the experiences we offer. In response, they tell us that they’re “spiritual but not religious,” and we fail to hear their blunt message that we’re “religious but not spiritual.”


Following a more spiritual path, our church emphasized the experience of God not only in worship, but in everything. We questioned everything we did, wondering whether it facilitated a potential experience of God. In worship we wondered: are people encountering God or something else? On boards and committees: are people engaging with God or something else? In education: are we teaching insights and skills helping people experience and engage with God, or merely giving them interesting information about God?


I wrote about the primacy of experiencing God in worship in my book, In God’s Presence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010). It was a guide for congregations on transforming worship, but not in the ways we typically think about it. We re-envisioned worship as the church’s mission—its primary mission—grounded in a foundational question: what are people experiencing when they worship with us?


For example, Presbyterians are incredibly wordy in worship. Look at a typical bulletin. It’s crammed with words, yet we’re living in a culture where music, visuals, symbols, and verbal brevity are everywhere. So, we traded wordiness for more reflective, musical, and personal experiences. We renovated our sanctuary to include color, art, better sound and lighting, and an overall aesthetic. We revamped most of our worship by questioning whether each element of worship helped or hindered the encounter with God, substituting elements that no longer worked for more creative ones we believed were more experiential. To generate ideas, each year our worship team visited other churches who were doing something different and experiential—contemporary, emergent, African American, traditional Episcopal, and even a 2 ½ hour casual Jewish Shabbat service in which 80% was in Hebrew.


In our discussions afterwards we always asked, “Where did you/I/we experience God?” We then considered what might be adapted for our worship. These led to significant changes: replacing a static, traditional responsive call to worship with a Taizé chant and silent prayer; reading scripture at the beginning of worship rather than in the middle; integrating contemporary, blues, jazz, popular, Celtic, Taizé and other forms of music throughout worship; offering communion every Sunday in one worship service; and healing prayers in worship once-a-month.


The inspiration for cultivating an experiential church emerged out of an insight I had in the 90s. I realized that churches grow when we offer something people yearn for but can’t find anywhere else. Conversely, we decline when we don’t. Many churches have tried to adapt over the past 25 years, asking, “What can we do to attract younger people?” or “How do we change but not lose our present members?” or “How do we do more in mission, so people know we’re here?” These are the wrong questions to ask because they ignore what people are yearning for.


What the church offers is a primary, regular avenue for the experience of God in worship, classes, fellowship, ministry, mission, and even meetings. A missional focus is important, but we constantly compete with many, many other organizations and efforts that offer what we offer in mission. Almost everything we do missionally has a secular counterpart that often do it better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be missional. I just think we need to view worship and spirituality as foundationally missional because they’re the experiences people most deeply seek from a church.


How do we tell whether what we’re doing helps people experience God? By asking and assessing. Invite outsiders to our worship and church to assess us, and ask afterwards, “what was your experience of God in our worship, in our church.” Create informal focus groups, get feedback from visitors, and try to look at your church through others’ eyes. The key is to realize that what people experience with us determines their engagement (or disengagement) with us.

29 views0 comments
bottom of page