Anxious Toil

steve gmailIt is with great excitement and pleasure that I introduce to you Steve Stuckey. Steve is my spiritual director and many others as well. In a nut shell, he keeps me focussed on Jesus and paying attention to His voice. I would say he is a master at helping to shape the APE type leader and keep them walking with Jesus in healthy and whole ways. I have asked Steve to write a monthly post with us to help us think about the spiritual formation side our lives. He is going to do a year long series called “Rooted” for us! We only need to turn so far to see how many leaders like us have crashed and burned…not because they weren’t well trained, or prepared, but because they lost their inner compass that pointed them to Jesus. I hope these posts from Steve are a monthly online opportunity to stop and reflect as catalytic leaders. He is passionate about helping APE’s get shaped, just in a different way than we normally read about here!

[This post is part of a series called Rooted. Find the other posts here]

Anxious Toil


“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives to his beloved, even while they sleep.” Psalm 127:2

A recent conversation with a fellow InterVarsity staff member began this way. “I feel anxious,” he said. “I have too much to do with the InterVarsity group on campus. My wife is upset that I am out so many evenings. My donors are feeling the economic crunch and donations are down. God seems distant and I have a hard time sitting still long enough to pray.”

I have noticed that 8 out of 10 people that I meet with mentioned feeling anxious. Maybe it is a disease of our American culture which tends to be narcissistic, goal oriented, and constantly restless. It is certainly a dis-ease of the soul that disturbs our peace, undermines our confidence in God, and focuses our minds upon things temporal and often irrelevant. Leaders who are inclined to be highly responsible and future focused seem to be especially prone to the condition. Some even wear their anxiety as a badge of honor to demonstrate how hard they are working.

Not Getting Enough Air

The root sense of the word anxious means to strangle. Picture a helpless sheep attacked by a pack of wolves. The predators lunge for the throat and pull their prey apart. Anxiety can strangle our sense of hope and leave us feeling like we are falling apart.  Luke 10 tells the story of Martha who was anxious and distracted by all that she had to do. She even ordered Jesus to tell her lazy sister Mary to help her in the kitchen. Anger often accompanies the complex.

Performance Anxiety

I have noticed that anxiety comes in different forms and it often helps to distinguish between them. There is performance anxiety which precedes an event or project. Usually it is tied to fear of failure, but it can have a useful purpose. The anxiety or fear, if it can be harnessed, can prompt us to practice more, prepare better, or perform at a higher level. Learning to manage the internal stress, however is key to transforming this type of anxiety into a useful servant. Deep breathing, exercise, and proper rest are important steps. If the anxiety seems unreasonable, there may be something in our past (relationship with someone important to us) that will need to be reexamined with the help of a counselor.

Anxiety and the Pace of Life

The second type of anxiety that I see more frequently is related to pace of life. People tell me they feel overwhelmed by all the tasks there are to do. They often use drowning images to describe the sensation. Or they feel like Lucy in the I Love Lucy episode where she is working with Ethel on the ever speeding conveyer belt at the See’s Candy Factory. There is the feeling that one is falling farther and farther behind. Another image is of a contestant in a hot dog eating contest. Consuming life but never really tasting it.

This second type of anxiety is far more destructive to our bodies, souls, and loved ones. It traps us in a world of superficiality and cuts us off from those resources (silence, prayer, intimate friendships) that energize and restore us. The problem is not work, it is pace of life. My experience with APE leaders is that, like high performance athletes, their threshold to pain and anxiety is often higher than most, but they do have a breaking point.

Next Steps

So in closing I will offer two suggestions.

First, though you may not be feeling anxious as a result of the pace of life, your spouse or closest ministry partners might be. Make a point to ask your spouse or ministry partner once a week, “ What is one thing I can do for you next week to pay attention to you and your world?”

Secondly, take a moment to write down in your journal the internal signs that tell you that you are nearing your breaking point. (e.g. snap at your spouse, kids, the dog; physical symptoms; lack of prayer or reflection time) Share that list with a close friend.

[This post is part of a series called Rooted. Find the other posts here]

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About Steve Stuckey

Steve has served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1971. His first thirty years were spent in pioneering and developing the work of InterVarsity in Central and Southern California. That effort involved identifying, positioning, and resourcing catalytic leaders. Since 2004 he has served as a spiritual director and retreat leader for current and former IVCF staff, helping them to abide in Christ and be rooted in his love. His website ( has additional resources. Steve and his wife Nancy have three grown children and five grandchildren.


  1. Thanks, Steve! I greatly value your wisdom as someone’s who has been serving in ministry for the long-haul.

    How do you figure out what to do and what not to do when there are so many places of need and opportunity? I have a hard time knowing when I’m holding back from wisdom (and keeping good boundaries for my family and myself) and when I’m being self-protecting and need to sacrifice. I envy Jesus being so sure of his mission that he could leave Capurnaum (and all the eager crowds) to go preach elsewhere (Mark 1).

    Any thoughts?

    • Kate,
      Thanks for the note. I think all of us are envious of Jesus and his confidence in making decisions of how to use time. Discernment is a trial and error process but thankfully Jesus is much more patient with us than we usually are with ourselves. The way you have described it, it seems as if there are two people living in your body. One sees the priority of your family and the need to care for them and the other sees the needs of the world and longs to make a difference. Regardless of which voice is in control at any given moment, the other voice may be raising objections. But both of those voices are part of you (by the way, there may be more than two voices) and both parts of you are loved by Jesus. I think we start there.

      Secondly, and you probably already do this, it may help to think of discernment as a group process. You and your husband can reflect on the need or the opportunity before you. You could also ask a close friend or ministry partner who knows you well to help you reflect. You could ask questions like: Is this opportunity part of my call; what might be involved in the opportunity in terms of time, energy, resources and for how long; how does it fit with what I am already doing; are there others to help shoulder the load; does the Lord want to teach me something or grow me as I give myself to this opportunity. I find it very difficult to be objective when dealing with my own internal voices by myself. My empathy and desire to be liked are loud but inviting others into the process provides some balance.

      Finally, I find that the staff who experience the pressure of these kinds of choices most acutely are those couples with two careers and young children in the home. Their life margins are very narrow until the children reach school age. Until they reach school age, most couples find it helps if they can do things that will increase their flexibility. (e.g. part time work, nanny, or grandparents).

      Thanks again for the note.

  2. I found myself quickly scrolling through this blog post because I have so much to do, dang it!! Then….catching myself in the irony of it all…I slowed down and read each word. Thanks, Steve! I look forward to reading (and hopefully, applying) more in this series.

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