I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time and blog space lately talking about grief. It’s interesting to see the ebbs and flows in my thought process over the last several months … it might make me look like I have a one-track mind, but I don’t; it’s just that this track is particularly wide at this time in my life.

Anyway, one thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the identity of grief. To some degree, grief has been part of who I am since September 2010 — almost 17 months now. Whether coping with the acute pain of loss or figuring out how to regain my footing, my grief has defined me in some way.

That is not really about to change; I don’t know when it will. Grief and healing are not exactly the kind of thing you can just check off of a list and complete — I don’t think you ever get to a point where you have Officially Completed the Grieving Process, because the source of your grief never goes away. But I do think it’s important to not allow grief to be the defining aspect of your life — at least not after a certain point. I’m coming to realize it’s part of coming out of survival mode, of learning how to incorporate grief into your life rather than fitting your life into your grief.

One way I’m trying to do this is by choosing joy.

John 16:22 states Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy, and Psalm 30:5 reminds us that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. In fact, there are 235 references to the word joy in the Bible — more than the words grief, sorrow and weep combined. That tells me that joy is an integral part of the Christian walk, and that as Christians we shouldn’t disregard it. But is it possible to have joy in the midst of deep grief?

First, understanding that my grief isn’t going anywhere helps me to shift my mindset away from the feeling that this sadness is interrupting my life and making a nuisance of itself. This is my life now, and it’s important that I figure out how all these new pieces go together. My grief isn’t going anywhere, but I don’t think that gives me license to just disengage from the life I’ve been given. Grief, sorrow and tears are very real things (as we all know) — but joy is equally real, and as I’ve learned this year, I don’t think it should depend fully on our external circumstances.

Second, one unfortunate side effect of my grief has been a lot of anger. I tend to give a lot more weight to the negative and frustrating things in life than I do to the happy things, and one way for me to choose joy is to consciously remember that the joys in life are just as valid as the frustrations. Giving equal weight to both goes a long way toward helping me tip the scales more evenly and to extend my fuse a bit, so to speak. (I keep saying that one thing I’m trying to do in 2012 is to not take other people’s stupidity so personally, but even in looking at the way I’ve worded that, I think I have a long way to go.) My grief has made me a lot less mellow, which I don’t like — and which I think I don’t have to accept.

Third, hope. The word hope is referenced 178 times in the Bible (interestingly, 17 times in the book of Job alone). Hope can be a really hard thing for a grieving person to cling to, but reading Scripture has really helped me in this area. The verse from John I quoted above, many of the Psalms, Philippians 3, Romans 8, and especially Revelation 21:4— there are so many passages that have brought me not only comfort, but hope in God’s goodness and in his promises. Because of this, I have hope that despite how strange and sad things feel now, I still somehow have a happy future ahead of me. No matter how far away that may seem sometimes, it doesn’t as often seem as impossible. And having that kind of hope is so, so helpful.

I said all through 2011 that I wanted 2012 to be, against all odds, a year of jubilee. A year of happiness and joy. A hard year, for sure, but a good one. And I think that consciously choosing joy is a good place to start.