“Hope is not a strategy.” These words echoed in my mind as I left the office of the president of a large hospital system. He was my boss and I admired him, yet I asked myself: “Did I express hope while providing advice and counsel?”

I may be criticized at times for being too optimistic. While I don’t completely understand this criticism, I must admit I usually have a favorable point of view expecting a positive outcome.

The topic of hope has emerged a number of times in the past few weeks, leading me to reflect on a variety of points of view.

What is hope? Is it real? Why is it important? Does it take us out of the present moment and distract us? Does it prevent us from accepting accountability, developing a plan or creating a strategy?

Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher, shares: “The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our satisfaction is now at another level, and our source is beyond ourselves.”

Yet I wonder if most of us believe or live in the theological virtue of hope. What’s the difference between the Christian explanation of hope and a more mainstream view?

The word hope in the English language is defined as: 1. to believe, desire or trust; 2. to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; 3. to feel that something desired may happen; or 4. the feeling that events will turn out for the best.

There is a level of uncertainty in the mainstream view. When we speak of hope, we often express that we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we hope it will happen.

In the Bible, the word hope is expressed with certainty. It is not viewed as wishful thinking. Scripture reveals: “set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (New American Bible Revised Edition, 1 Peter 1:13)

Christian hope reflects God’s promise that something will happen and we can place our trust in that promise. There is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.

Many view hope as a component of faith with parallel realities: Hope is faith in the future tense. Whether or not we view hope and faith from a Christian or more mainstream perspective, how do we express hope or become hopeful?

There is a longstanding story that provides a window into faith and hope. It’s a story about a person who finds himself trapped in a flood. While everyone is instructed to evacuate their home, he calmly declines, believing his faith in God will save him.

As the streets flood, a rescue team in a rubber raft tries to persuade him to leave. He decides to stay, trusting that God will save him. As the flood crashes through the windows of his home, he climbs to the roof.

A helicopter flies to the roof to save him and again he refuses help, believing God will save him. The man ultimately drowns. When he meets God, the man is angry and asks God: “Why didn’t you save me? I believed, I was faithful and hopeful to the very end.” To which God responds: “I tried. I instructed you. I sent a raft. I sent a helicopter. Yet you wouldn’t come.”

Paula D’Arcy, author and retreat leader, shares: “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Although we are hopeful, we often don’t recognize God when God comes to us simply in the people and things of this world.

It can be challenging for us to connect the human and the divine story. We find ourselves asking: What does it all mean? Why don’t I feel fully alive or why doesn’t my life have meaning? Why can’t I get it right?

We hear in Scripture: “Your faith has saved you.” (New American Bible Revised Edition, Luke 7:50, 18:42.) Faith is about a foundational trust in the midst of darkness and light; joy and suffering; and belief and doubt. It is the ability to embrace paradox and mystery.

In the past few decades, psychological research has addressed the value of hope.

Research reveals that while it is important to have talent, skill, and ability, hope is the psychological vehicle that really moves us to success and happiness. In an article in Psychology Today, Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., shares that hope is undervalued and underappreciated in psychology and in society. He says that while you may have the best engine in the world, if you can’t drive, you won’t get anywhere.

Kaufman divulges that hope often gets a bad reputation, creating images of naïve and child-like innocence that is absent of experience or judgment. Yet cutting-edge science reveals that hope matters. Hope involves the will and the various ways to get there.

So why is hope important? Life can be difficult. Countless obstacles appear in our path. While having a plan is valuable, it is not enough. Our human plans can be both supported and interrupted by God. As we move through our plans, we realize there are many twists and turns. Hope enables us to approach life with a mind-set and strategy-set that increase our chances for success and happiness. We come to realize that we must hold faith and hope together. While it was not my intention to use hope as a strategy with my boss, maybe it was hope that I was expressing, after all.

Teresa Nizza is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.com