Sometimes a verse, or even just a word, keeps running through my mind. I’ve learned to pay attention to this kind of repetition because I have the sense it’s usually something God is inviting me to consider. Recently it happened again, and it all began at a writing workshop.

One of the speakers had that awful slot known as the ‘graveyard shift’ – after lunch, heading towards the end of the day, when everybody’s concentration is failing and a few are even nodding off to sleep. If that wasn’t bad enough, she was talking on the rather technical topic of how to go about self-publishing on Amazon. Now this may be riveting to others but for techno-challenged me it’s a bit like Chinese torture.

Except this time, it wasn’t.

There was something refreshingly different about this speaker. She didn’t speak animatedly or project excessive confidence or crack brilliant jokes. She didn’t puff herself up in any way but shared honestly and openly, not only the technical side of navigating Amazon but also her own struggles and joys as a writer.

As I listened to her, the line of a Bible verse popped into my mind. It was the verse (John 1:47) where Jesus describes Nathanael as being a man ‘without guile.’ Guileless—that’s exactly how I would describe the speaker. Later I looked up the verse in different versions and the rather old-fashioned word is translated as ‘no deceit’, ‘complete integrity’, ‘no duplicity’ and ‘sincere’.

I had one further engagement with the speaker. One of her YA fantasy books is a free download on Amazon and I read it and genuinely loved it and sent her an email to tell her as much. Now if one expects a speaker to do a certain amount of ‘projecting and puffing’, my experience is that compliments can have the opposite effect and lead people to be dismissive and diminishing of themselves, along the lines of ‘oh, this old frock—I just threw it on’ when you tell someone you like their outfit. But this speaker did neither. Instead, she thanked me and said she was very fond of the book herself. Guileless.

I wondered afterwards why she had stood out so much for me and I came to the conclusion that ‘guileless’ is a rather unique characteristic in a world where projection and impression management are the norm. Because I sensed God inviting me to work on this area, I began to take note of my own tendency to this kind of ‘projecting’ behaviour. It comes out particularly with those I feel a little insecure around, or am competitive with, or those I want to impress in some way (often new people or people I particularly respect). With these I try to sound a little wiser, a little wittier, a little more accomplished than I truly am, and because it’s a long-standing pattern of behaviour, it’s not easy to identify and change.

I’m making a start though and am trying to be as authentic as I can in every encounter I have. Already I’m noticing subtle shifts in my relationships. I feel a bit more ‘present’ for people as my focus is moving away from myself and what they might think of me. This seems to give others the impetus to be more open and authentic too.

It’s early days and I still have a long way to go. I’m not so sure Jesus would call me ‘guileless’ just yet but I’m grateful that he showed me a beautiful example of a Nathanael in this world. Mostly I’m grateful that he is gently working on my heart and that he always knows just what word or verse to impress on it.