Balboa Island sits like a glistening jewel in Southern California’s Newport Harbor. Getting there involves a short drive across a bridge from the city of Newport Beach or a three -minute ferry ride from the Balboa Peninsula. The 126-acre island has been a popular place for the last century and is always abuzz with activity. People flock there year round to enjoy a variety of water activities, to stroll the perimeter walkway, to shop and to eat a famous “Balboa Bar” (chocolate dipped ice cream rolled in your choice of toppings).
Divided into 1,430 parcels of land, it has been carved up to hold as many people as possible. With real estate at a premium, the small beach shacks that once occupied the island have mostly been replaced by much grander homes. Although they are tightly packed together, they look beautiful lining the tidy streets. All garages are accessed from alleys in the back, hiding the less appealing elements of island life.
As much as I love vacationing at Balboa Island, it usually takes me a day or two to adjust to the close quarters with our neighbors. This summer, I quickly learned the patterns of those living nearby: the little kids two doors away had nightly meltdowns around 10pm. The neighbor behind us hosted dinner guests who enjoyed animated conversations until extremely late into the night. And our next-door neighbor had screeching grandchildren whose noise level was rivaled only by their dog. (I didn’t know it was possible to drink water loudly. I never saw him, but imagine he must have been quite large.)
Of course, none of these people had any idea we could hear them. They weren’t trying to be rude or obnoxious and probably didn’t think about the way their voices carried. After a while we tuned them out anyway, so it didn’t matter much. But it did get me thinking.
I wonder how often we realize the part we play in setting the tone around us. What would my vacation neighbors have said about my family’s noise levels and habits? Could they hear the music we played or my boys laughing and wrestling when they were supposed to be getting ready for bed?
I think most of us have an image of ourselves we like to believe is the acceptable version. To use an analogy from my vacation, I’d call this the “street view.” It’s the public version each of us has that is generally presentable and shows well most of the time.
We also have a version of ourselves that is the less attractive side. I’d call this the “alley view.” This includes the parts of ourselves that we’re less likely to let others see until we know them well (or at all). The alleys on Balboa Island hide trashcans, power lines, broken furniture and a variety of other things that aren’t particularly attractive. The less savory sides of my vacation neighbors revealed whining kids with distracted parents and party guests oblivious to the fact that their revelry was keeping the entire block awake. (And a dog with bad table manners).
As Christians, our goal is to have our “street views” and “alley views” be consistent. This doesn’t mean we have to put up a façade or act like we’re perfect. It does mean we’re striving to have who we are in private be consistent with who we are in public. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us some great instruction on what this looks like:
“12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful…17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-15 &17, NIV)
I love how Paul describes godly character qualities as clothing we wear for everyone to see. Our compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are meant to be as obvious to others as the shirts on our backs. Through the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness flow from us to bless others. We encourage people with our wisdom and all that we do honors God and shows our gratitude for Him.
So, how well does that describe you? If you were staying in close quarters like we did on Balboa Island, what would your next-door neighbor hear echoing from the alley? To get even more personal: How do you think people feel after they’ve spent time with you? Blessed? Encouraged? Refreshed? Drained? Judged? Loved?
What tone do you set in your immediate surroundings? If you aren’t sure, spend some time observing yourself over the next few days and see what you learn. Each of us has the power every day to bless the people in our lives- whether it is the ones we see intentionally or the ones who happen to cross our paths. Let’s commit to living our lives in such a way that whether they’re overhearing us or interacting with us face to face, they encounter the love of God in a way they can’t deny.
Sidewalk Prophets has an inspiring song about impacting others daily. Click on the link to hear “Live Like That.”