The Essentials

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
– Mary Oliver

A few evenings before Christmas I moseyed into my daughter’s bedroom where my husband had set up camp, ferociously wrapping the stocking stuffers he’d purchased from the dollar store. I’d finished most of my preparations for the holidays, and the kids were zoned out like zombies on their devices. I lay down on my daughter’s bed, wanting company but not really wanting to do anything, and I made a proclamation:


I was tired and half-serious when I said it, but my husband was immediately on board. He reminded me that Dallas Willard recommends everyone take a spiritual retreat at least once or twice a year. After all, if Jesus needed forty days in the wilderness to ground himself in God, then how much more do we need time away? It made me think of the Blaise Pascal quote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

We agreed on the weekend before New Year’s. Chris was off work and could watch the kids. I found a little Airbnb apartment in the Outer Banks that would be perfect for me.

I realized that in almost fourteen years of marriage and twelve years of motherhood, I’ve never gotten away alone. I’ve left my family before, but it has always been to meet up with a friend or attend a conference. As a highly sensitive introvert, this realization shocked me. For as much as I love being alone, I’ve been afraid to stay in a strange place by myself, afraid my own thoughts might devour me, and afraid that God might devour me or not show up at all.

When I arrived at my little place, I felt a rush of giddiness pulse through me. For the next 48 hours, no one could ask me for anything! I brought in my bags of goodies from the car, full of coffee, peanut butter, dark chocolate, a bottle of Bulliet Rye, maraschino cherries, and a martini shaker. The essentials. I made myself a Manhattan and microwaved a frozen burrito for dinner. I poured some Pace picante sauce on my burrito and sat down in front of the TV.

My brain was fried. Despite my grand plans to make the most of every second, all I could manage that first night was to binge-watch a Fixer Upper marathon on HGTV. Sprawled out on the couch and feeling the warmth of the whiskey, I watched radical home transformations and marveled at Joanna Gaines’ energy level. I felt like my mind was withdrawing from some sort of high.

The next day, as I prayed and journaled, I was mindful of the ways that modern adulthood can make me feel like a rat trapped in one of those experiments, continuously choosing the narcotic-filled snacks even though they’re killing me. I have this frenetic energy inside of me that craves more stimulation to keep itself going. I have too many tabs open but can’t stop refreshing the newsfeed, always looking for the next little dose of possibility or approval. I can go through the motions, look and play the part, join the action, but meanwhile, I feel dead inside.

Last year I took on a lot of new opportunities, things I’m really glad I said yes to, but the cost is that it left me feeling totally burned out. Year after year, I find myself repeating this pattern in a variety of different ways. I’m forced to accept the reality that my time and energy is limited. Experience has taught me that I simply can’t do it all. At least, not all at the same time.

In this new year, the word that keeps coming to mind is CURATE. It means “to care,” and it implies a careful selection.

I want to curate a life that makes time for the most essential things—simply paying attention, being attentive, listening, and writing. I want to feel more whole and less fragmented. I want to nurture the life that’s right in front of me.

On the final morning of my getaway, I woke to a gentle rain. It was the last day of December. I went into the kitchen and brewed my dark roast coffee. I looked at the individual pieces of fruit I’d brought with me. An orange, a banana, a pear, my little companions for the weekend, sitting so pretty like a still-life painting on the chopping block.

I chose the pear, a bit bruised and boggy from the travel. I cut it in half first, then scraped the core and seeds to the other side of the board, trimmed away the brown spots and cubed the remains into bitesize pieces. Not much flesh left, but what had survived was so tender and sweet, and I ate it all.

Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, Literary Mama, and Ruminate. A veteran of the US Air Force, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She loves a good cup of coffee, bohemian home decor, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at