I have a habit of putting people into categories: Those I should stay far away from, those I’m happy to keep at arm’s length as acquaintances, all the way up to those with whom I can share my deepest thoughts with – those who can do no wrong.

It wasn’t always this way. Something traumatic happened to me in church nearly a decade ago that changed the way I view relationships, especially with God’s people. I thought I could shield myself from hurt; I would hang out only with the “top range” of people and stay far away from the bottom bunch. Self-preservation at its best.

It worked for a while, until recently, when the people I thought could do no wrong started to hurt me. One even tore open wounds that were not fully healed.

I found myself having to either become like a castaway – alone on my own sad little island of gloom – or face up to them and speak to them in maturity. I became depressed and bitter.

It’s much easier to cut off the people we don’t like, or find it difficult to talk to, instead of facing them squarely and looking at them in the eye. Avoidance worked for me for a while, until issues arose with the people I loved most.

I had to put aside my own wounded feelings, even those I thought I was entitled to, and confront the issues lovingly in order to reconcile the relationships. At times, I didn’t know how to reach out across the divide, but then God’s Word showed me the way.

The Lord reminded me to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), so I did so, with much grace, expressing honestly my disagreements with people I cared for.

In Matthew 18:5, we have a road map on how to deal with conflicts: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

So I did that, even though it took nearly 10 months for me to muster up the courage to do so. And I’m thankful to have reconciled with a dear sister of mine.

Another verse I have to keep reminding myself of in the midst of a heated conversation: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

And the hardest of them all, to forgive not seven times, but 77 times – or 70 times 7 if you like the translation that urges you to forgive even more – just as we have been forgiven and absolved of all our sins.

I don’t do all these perfectly, but I know that if I want to follow Christ, there’s no way he will allow me to wallow in my hurt and self-pity, and the destructiveness of unforgiveness.

In dealing with conflict, and having those difficult conversations, in speaking the truth with love, the rest of the verse says, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

It is only through lovingly confrontational relationships that Christ will mould his Church, as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

That pretty much was the thread running through 2016 for me. Looking back at the past year, I’m awed at how my relationships have strengthened because they have endured conflict, and how they have been healed from the lowest and most difficult points.

I’m also amazed at how my own heart has been healed and restored. That can only be the work of a loving Father.

I’m looking forward to more difficult conversations in 2017.