An Interview With Author Fred Stoeker
From the television to the Internet, print media to videos, men are constantly faced with the assault of sensual images. It is impossible to avoid such temptations...but, thankfully, not impossible to rise above them. Shattering the perception that men are unable to control their thought lives and roving eyes, Every Man's Battle shares the stories of dozens who have escaped the trap of sexual immorality and presents a practical, detailed plan for any man who desires sexual purity. Every Man's Battle is a helpful read for any man: those who have fallen in the past, those who want to remain strong today and all who want to overcome temptation in the future. Fred Stoeker recently spoke with Jen Abbas, author of Generation Ex, about the book that has all the guys talking.
Jen Abbas: This is a pretty risky topic for a first time author. What inspired you?
Fred: I had taught a seven-week course on sexual purity twice at my church. I was teaching it to married classes and the response from the men was nothing short of just dramatic. They would come up to me for weeks afterwards on the sly, telling me about their problems and [asking] how they could get over them. A number of them said I should write a book. At first I thought they were just being complimentary, but after awhile, I started thinking maybe I should. I prayed about it and decided that rather than ending up being 85 sitting in my rocking chair wishing that I would have, I decided I would go ahead and see what God would do with it. It was something important to do and if it never got published at least my own kids would have it and they could use it to teach my grandkids. That was my mindset.
Abbas: At what point did you realize that lust was more of a problem than maybe you initially thought?
Fred: It was always really bad for me, obviously, before I was saved. After [I became a Christian] I got into the church and married about a year later. I didn't understand fully the problems that come with lust. I knew that the things that I was doing were probably wrong but I didn't know anybody else that had the problem. I had no one to talk to and I really didn't see the effects that it was having at first. I suppose you could say that I began to really understand it three, four years into marriage.
Abbas: What effects you began to see?
Fred: There's kind of an invisible effect and then there's more of a visible effect. The invisible effect is that when you are involved in sexual impurity, there's adultery in your life. And when there's adultery in your life, you may be having sex with your wife physically but your spirits aren't communing. It's impossible in the spirit realm for your spirits to be communing properly because of the adultery. So there's a loss in the spirit realm, which is hard to put our finger on. From a visible point of view, there is no way that you can have a fully complete relationship with your wife. You're always afraid to give yourself 100% to your wife because you know that one day, she's going to find out about this and if you're not fortunate, she's going to leave you and leave you devastated emotionally. So you don't want all your emotions tied up in her. You want to have something left that's not crushed in the end. That's a common thing that I hear when I talk to men, that they really can't give themselves fully and their hearts are held back.
Abbas: What would you say to the man who says that his thought life is private and doesn't affect anyone else?
Fred: Well, I would say that's crazy. There's nothing in the Bible that would lead us to believe that. Christ would never agree with that. I know that some of the times when I was right in the very act of looking at, not pornography, but lingerie ads or some of those things, my wife would run down the stairs because she had just had a dream where she's being chased by Satan and she couldn't find me in the dream to protect her. I really think that the effects of my sin were causing my protection to be taken off of her. I also know that there's generational sin. The Bible's very clear about that. It would affect my kids whether they even knew about my sin or not.
And it was was having a huge impact on my ability to worship. I know the day that I finally broke free. It was about 6 weeks into the process [of putting] the principles into place. The next morning was Sunday and it was the first morning I was able to worship freely in my whole life. I didn't stop worshipping for 48 hours. There's more to this than what we think. If we're in it long enough, we're so used to it that we don't really notice it but I can assure you that once it's gone, there's a huge difference in your life.
Abbas: If you were to write a review for Every Man's Battle, how would you describe it?
Fred: I would describe it as a very practical book that's centered on getting free. Unlike many of the other books in the marketplace, which are designed to kind of quantify what the problem is, Every Man's Battle is designed to tell people how to get free. I don't think that a Christian book is useful if it just tells you how many people are in the boat with you. I think it's only useful if it tells you how to get out of the boat.
Abbas: What are some of the suggestions you offer to men reading this book?
Fred: The first thing I suggest is to re-evaluate the way they view Christianity entirely. One of the things that most Christians do these days is mix their standards with God's standards. What we'll do is we'll see a verse that says something like this, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality" (Ephesians 5:3), and what we'll do with that is say, "Well, that's just too hard. God can't possibly have meant what He said there" and we'll mix in our own standards to make it easier to live by. We'll redefine what sexual immorality is so that we don't have to actually live with that sharp of a line. And what happens is we get hooked like the Israelites got hooked. They were supposed to go into the land and destroy every last trace of the religions that were there before them but instead of doing that, they mixed their standards [and those things] became a snare to them later. What happens when we mix our standards when it comes to sexual purity is that we'll say to ourselves, "Well, you know, I won't actually go out on my wife, but it's okay to look at these lingerie ads, it's okay to look at these joggers…" and pretty soon [those things] become a snare to you and you have just as much distance from God as you would have with any of the bigger things you were going to do. So the first thing I challenge men to do is to look at their lives and decide that it's time to live by God's standards and not our own. Once you do that, then you have the freedom to truly live and to truly fight. Before that, I would say none of my principles will work at all because you haven't really committed to His standards.
Once you do that, though, there are three things that you need to do. You need to build three perimeters around yourself. One is a perimeter of the eyes, which I call "bouncing the eyes." Men can draw sexual gratification from their eyes and it's natural for them to do so. What I do is teach men how to train their eyes to bounce away from the sensual as opposed to bouncing toward the sensual. And that's a process that really only takes about six weeks. It can be very habitual after that, where your eyes are doing the right thing. The second thing is to build a perimeter around the mind. They'll be thinking about old girlfriends, they'll be thinking about ex-wives, they'll maybe even be fantasizing about things they've seen, whatever. I train them to take every thought captive. I give them the Scriptures that are useful to tell them how to do it. And then the last thing is to draw a perimeter around your heart, where you learn to cherish your wife and see her as valuable for who she is today as opposed to who you wish she was. I think that of all the perimeters, that's the most important one because if you have a cherishing heart for your wife as she is today, that's going to draw you into purity because you're going to want to be pure.
Abbas: How has building these perimeters affected your relationship with your wife?
Fred: When I went into this process, I just want to be able to look my God in the eye. I just want to be able to worship. That's all I wanted. But then what happened was, the blessings began pouring in. I can hardly even talk about it because He's so gracious. You know, the thing is, I would have never dreamed that my actual tastes would change, but that's the glory of God. He tells us to take joy in the wife of your youth and what happened was, as she became the only input into my eyes, she began to look totally gorgeous.
Abbas: At what point should a man share his struggles with his wife and for what purpose?
Fred: I'm probably tighter on this than what some people are. But I also know from my own experience in dealing with guys that sometimes we let our wives know too soon and that can be a problem [because most] women don't understand our visual orientation. They don't understand the hook that this puts into us and so they can only think of it from their perspective. If they were thinking those things, they would be perverted so they automatically believe that we're perverted. And I'm not saying it's not perverted to some degree, but it's not as bad as what they think.
I get emails all the time from men saying, "Look, my wife found out about this. She's divorcing me. Help me." The fact of the matter is, and I know this will sound strange to a woman, but this viewing of pornography and all the things that surround it often has nothing to do with the wife at all. I mean, your wife can still the one that you would never be able to live without, but there's this dichotomy in your mind. There's this sin, this perversion that takes you in this other direction. So, a lot of times women react with, "Oh, he's a pervert and he doesn't love me." But actually he's a sinner that has a bad habit that he needs to break. It doesn't necessarily mean he's worse than the next person down the street.
I feel you need to wait just a little bit because when I first tried to break free, I hadn't really totally made the decision that I hated my sin. And so what happens if you tell your wife too soon is that she's checking up on you all the time [trying to help], putting a lot of pressure on you. The worst part is that she doesn't understand why you can't get free. If she starts to get really resentful it can put a big wedge in the relationship rather than be a help.
Abbas: Because that ties to how a woman is wired emotionally.
Fred: Exactly. And in my wife's case, she was very graceful. I was already part way through the process and so she actually helped me by not withdrawing. But I see more of the other response, actually, where a wife will withdraw for awhile as she tries to sort herself out. So what I would say is, the one thing you want to make sure of before you tell her is that you really hate your sin and that you really, really want to win. Once you get to that point, then you're going to win and so it doesn't matter if you tell her. Once you really decide to win at this, it doesn't take that long to beat it.
Abbas: You have four kids. What are you doing to teach your kids about purity?
Fred: Well the main thing that you do to teach them is the stuff that you don't actually say.
Abbas: The modeling.
Fred: Yeah. I think the key aspect to parenting is having zero hypocrisy in your life. I think that hypocrisy is the most devastating thing to a child because when you're saying one thing and doing another, they can't make sense of anything and pretty soon they start resenting you. When you're modeling [the behavior you want them to learn] they don't have to look very far to find someone else who's doing the same thing.
Now, in terms of teaching my oldest son about purity, I told him early [about] the dangers of pornography. I didn't tell him about my life, but I wanted him to know that when someone was gathering around with some pornography that he should turn and walk the other way. I've modeled it and talked about it over time so when we were watching a TV show not too long ago, he was better than me because there was a scene with a man and a woman in a bubble bath, and he was up and out of the room in no time.
Abbas: What advice would you give to single guys struggling with temptation when they don't have a righteous means of expressing those desires?
Fred: A lot of teens and single guys believe that marriage is a sexual nirvana, that all their problems are over. But the thing that we find out after we're married is that we usually have as many unmet sexual desires as we did beforehand. That's kind of scary, but it is true. I think that the same thing is true to tell them as I would tell married guys: look, this is how your eyes work. This is how your mind works. And when you are looking at these things, lusting over these girls or the computer monitor or whatever else, what it does is it kind of elevates your sex drive. It's almost like you have a constant low-grade fever. Your sex drive is constantly percolating. It's always up there just a little bit and it's very easy then to take your motor beyond that, to rev the engine up and get into sin.
So the main thing is to keep all those inputs out because what that does is it takes your sex drive right back down to where it is naturally. God can easily handle that and I think you can stand purely, even if you're not married. But with our culture, it accelerates everything if you're constantly seeing those things. And since seeing these things is actually a form of foreplay, you're constantly in that mode of being driven to where you don't want to go. And of course the problem for 16 and 18-year-old guys is they're more concerned with being accepted by their peers than they are being accepted by God. And so if they have to choose between walking holy for a Person they can't see or being accepted by the football players that they can see, they're going to choose, a lot of times, to go the wrong way. The other thing I would tell them is that the habits that they form as singles are the habits they're going to take into marriage and those habits don't go away on your wedding day. They just get worse.
Abbas: I find it interesting that you went to a marriage class when you were single.
Fred: I did that because I knew I needed to find a Sunday school class. I looked at myself and said, "What do you most need to know?" And, of course, I looked at my most recent past, with the four girlfriends and I thought, "You know, the thing I most need to know is how to treat women with respect." And so I thought the best place to learn that would be a marriage class.
Abbas: So what did you learn?
Fred: Everything. The way I viewed women at that time was that they were for me. I wasn't for them. When I got into that marriage class, I learned that obviously, they're not there for me. But then the other thing is that they're a lot different from me. They think differently. They don't view sex the same way. They don't view relationships the same way. They don't view raising kids the same way. They don't view anything the same way! And I began to understand that rather than just being a guy with soft bodies, that they're actually quite a gift. I began to understand that I had to respect them and that even though they were different, [those differences] really needed to be respected.
For me, coming from the outside, it was hard to understand all these things that were being written because I'd never seen anything like that. After awhile [of learning about what a godly women looks like], I thought to myself, "You know, I don't really know anybody like this and I'd really like to see a girl who actually has all these characteristics." And I prayed that the Lord would introduce me to one. Not for a date or anything, I just wanted to see one so that I could understand my lessons better and of course that's I met Brenda and the rest is history.
Abbas: What would you like to say to women about the effect of visual stimulation on men?
Fred: I would say that they need to understand what they're doing. Personally I think every woman should read Every Man's Battle because [some women are] adding to the whole situation because they're not living Christian lives themselves. I mean, the Bible's clear that women are to dress modestly, for instance. Well, when they don't…in fact, this is one of the stories in the book. ..a woman who leads worship here had a slit in the dress she wore almost every week that went all the way up her thigh. Well, whenever she walked across the platform, you could see that thigh flashing. I had guys from the Teen Challenge group that were saying, "You know, we try to be pure but there she is every week and we think about those things."
Knowing that, they can do what my daughter does. Since she knows what guys think when they're around her or close to her, she's really careful about her body clues and the kinds of things she does to make sure she's not fueling that fire. I would also say to women that it's not their responsibility [to keep men pure]. We still have to be responsible as men for purity even though they may not doing the right thing. Even so, as Christian brothers and sisters, we should always be trying to help each other to Christian greatness and it doesn't help us to Christian greatness by being a stumbling block to purity.
Abbas: Is your book, Every Woman's Desire written for men too?
Fred: Oh yeah, absolutely. We've given it a weird title but the fact of the matter is, this title is perfect because men don't know what every woman's desire is. Every woman's desire is this: oneness with their mate, living in mutual submission. That's what every woman desires and that's what almost no woman gets because men won't live in mutual submission. They want to be head and their wives to submit and that's it. But if you go to Ephesians 5:21, it's very clear.
The first seven chapters talk about what true leadership is as opposed to this old, beat-you-over-the-head thing. And then the rest of the book is showing what it looks like in marriage.
Abbas: What is God teaching you now?
Fred: He's teaching me to not care anything about man's thoughts and man's acclaim at all. He's teaching me to walk straight and true and have no fear of men.
Jen Abbas, a writer in Grand Rapids, MI and author of the book, Generation Ex: Adult Children of Divorce and the Healing of our Pain, conducted this interview on April 18, 2001 for FamilyChristian.com. You can visit her online at JenAbbas.com.