Monday, April 7, 2008

Winslow Homer on Waiting

It takes a lot of self-restraint and conviction to wait for what you want. From the moment we're born, we contend with our own impatience. Just watch a hungry newborn trying to suckle their mother. We want what we want when we want it!

Recently, I thought about our impatience to wait when I read this quote by Winslow Homer. Homer, a celebrated American artist, is known for his exquisite use of light diffused across melancholy seascapes.

In a letter to a friend, Winslow Homer described his working method. "I work very hard ever afternoon from 4:30 to 4:40—that being the limit of the light I represent. You must not paint everything you see. You must wait, and wait patiently, until the exceptional, the wonderful effect or aspect comes.” (The Chicago Institute of Art, special exhibit)

How many of us wait, and wait patiently, for the exceptional and wonderful? More often than not, we settle for less than the best OR end up painting everything we see! We run around gathering and hoarding all that we can get our hands on rather than waiting for that which is exquisite.

I just spent a glorious weekend in Nashville, Indiana, speaking at a retreat. (If you’ve never been, but were to visit this scenic village nestled in the hills of southern Indiana, you just might change your mind about what you think of the Hoosier state!) It is an uncommonly beautiful and dramatic landscape.

I spent the weekend with women from New Life Community Church—every bit as warm-hearted as the spring weather we enjoyed. They soaked in the experience and were so responsive to the message of The Wide Open Spaces of God. I feel like I just made a batch of new friends!

They are in transition between lead pastors. As a result, they are a “community-in-waiting.” However, rather than impatience, I sense a growing resolve to lean in to the waiting and be transformed by it. In the process, I wonder if they won't discover far more of their own gifts, passions, and destiny, as they wait on God to lead them to the next chapter in the life and leadership of their church.

Homer knew what he was looking for, the lighting he wanted. To capture it, he waited for that narrow ten-minute window between 4:30 pm and 4:40 pm and worked exceedingly hard to replicate it on canvas. What great things would come—exceptional and wonderful things—if we learned to be patient and wait.


Cindy S said...

I so enjoyed the retreat and the time we spent with you. I had read parts of your book that applied to my life right now (Valley of Darkness & Desert), but not the parts that I thought were out of my reach (Green Pastures). I am so glad you covered this area because I have a whole new perspective of my Christian life. You were also so right in saying that we are the only ones who can make the fast paced craziness stop! I AM making it stop, and learning to just "BE". This will take some practice! I hope to see you soon!
Cindy S

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your thoughts on patiently waiting for the right light. There's often quite a bit of "sitting around" involved in that wait, sin't there....but I really like this image and will continue to wait for the exceptional light....

carol hiestand said...

Beth, waiting for the exceptional - what a thought. I love that concept. I want to figure things out, process things, fix things (old nurses are like that!), but I think I am learning to sit with things. Last night as i was wandering around the kitchen, unfocused (having returned from a week vacation and not wanting to be home) and thinking a little something from the fridge might work, I remembered to "sit with it" like you said in your book. I realized asking God for focus would probably go further than chocolate!

Anonymous said...


Good for you, Carol! Although I have to commend the therapeutic value of chocolate. Dark chocolate, especially. (I'm no help, am I?)

Warmly, Beth