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Prayer 101: Here's How To Talk To God

Whether it's your first time or you're reconnecting, we've got you covered.

Inspiration

Growing up in a Christian household, I was always taught that having a relationship with God is important. I'd see this shown through the examples of immediate family members who were never shy about learning and mastering how to talk to God through prayer. For many, it's a way to relieve stress, usher in blessings, have quiet time, and release mental and spiritual baggage. It is also a vital aspect of being a Christian (as reflected in Philippians 4:6) and allows us to humble ourselves before God (2 Chronicles 7:14), gain wisdom (Daniel 1), and open our hearts for revelations and instructions (Jeremiah 33:3). Whew sis, I know that was a lot of Bible verses, but they are a true indication of why prayer is necessary.

I remember being 11 and reading a book by Judy Blume called "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret." It was an eye-opening exploration of a preteen going through a lot of changes—awaiting her first time menstruating, having her first kiss, understanding her parents' interfaith marriage, and facing peer pressure. I'd known a lot about the church's version of connection with God but this was the first time I could directly relate to developing one on my own terms.

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Since then, I've seen so many things manifested in my own life through prayer alone, especially during pandemic-related challenges related to finances, employment, and family relationships. Like literally, after I've prayed, issues were either resolved, on the way to being resolved, or didn't bother me as much as they did before I prayed about them. And there are millions of people who pray at least once a day. Many successful leaders can even attest to the power and importance of prayer, from Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce, to Denzel Washington and Chance the Rapper.

You don't have to be perfect, a minister, super-sanctified, or super-educated to pray. All people are welcome to talk to God (1 Timothy 2) and to be blessed by communicating with Him (Matthew 5:6).

If you find yourself stuck on how to talk to God or you need to reconnect, try these 5 steps that have been helpful in my journey:

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1. Talk to God, frankly,  about your thoughts—or even doubts—about prayer.

It might seem strange at first, but I've found it helpful to simply go to God as if I'm talking to a trusted loved one. I mean, He is indeed our Father (1 Corinthians 8:6), so why not? You might feel a bit intimidated or silly at first, but go to God and tell him about those feelings. (I still do this. No lie. just the other day I said, "God, I feel super-stupid right now, and I'm mad. Can you please help me to understand and to overcome the anger? Can you help me at least accept and make the necessary changes I need to?)

What's going on in your life? What are you grateful for? What are you confused about? What's bothering you? What would you like to accomplish? Don't get caught up in formalities. (Matthew 6:7 touches on this.)

You can pray with your eyes closed, open, standing, kneeling, quiet, or loudly in a space of your choosing. (I've excused myself at work to go to the bathroom and pray, I've prayed even while someone is speaking to me—especially when I've felt disrespected or "tried" as they say—and I've prayed while in rush-hour traffic, eyes open, of course!) If you feel the urge to kneel, do that. If you need to shout, do that. If you need to cry, let it out. If it's one sentence or a whole hour-long session, that's fine, too. Just have a conversation and be candid. Sit quietly in silence when you can't find the words. You can even write down your thoughts and read those words in your prayer.

If you feel insecure about doing this or think it's not "proper," ask God, "Well, why does 'being proper' matter so much? God, please reveal things to me about the way in which to pray." Take a step forward and God will do the rest.

2. Start with the basics: 'The Lord's Prayer.'

One of the first prayers I learned as a child (other than the usual dinnertime rhyme "God is great, God is good..." ) was "The Lord's Prayer." Jesus offers this prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, and it covers respect of God, forgiveness of others, protection from evil, and coverage of your needs. Throughout my life I've come back to this prayer, and though it might seem a bit formal, it's a go-to for me.

Even at a time where I'd totally turned away from religion and spirituality altogether—and had gotten into some pretty dangerous situations during a dark period of my life that involved a lot of drinking, partying, and tolerating unhealthy abusive relationships—this prayer would be on replay. It was like God had followed me, a phenomenon I'll never forget and will forever be grateful for. It's an empowering prayer, and when I really dig deep into the words and their meaning, I get a sense of boldness and peace.

Other places in the Bible where you can find inspiring and empowering prayers include Psalms 63 (praise), Psalms 51 (forgiveness and redemption), Psalms 30:6-12 (endurance), Psalm 23 ("The Lord is My Shepherd").

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3. Read about the prayer practices and experiences of others.

I'm huge on asking God questions and just questioning any notion that is presented to me. It's part of the reason I became a journalist. (Hey, it was either study media or go to law school.) I used to fear that I'd be cursed or sent to hell for questioning God, but then I found out by reading and talking with people who have a balanced relationship with spirituality that being inquisitive and keeping it real with God is not a bad thing. (And just read James 1:5-6 to see what I'm talking about.) My mom, a minister and someone who has a special nuance with counseling women, used to always tell me, "Janell if you have questions or doubts, talk to God about them. Humbly ask him to open your heart and mind. Ask for wisdom. You will get what you ask for."

Gaining a connection with God is a journey, and reading up on spirituality to learn about the experiences of others often provides confirmation or answers to questions I've posed during prayer. Watching videos or listening to podcasts about people's real-life personal stories involving prayer (such as this one featuring author Priscilla Shirer or the "Behind Her Faith" series and podcast) helped me understand and relate more to the practice of prayer. It also helped to read about how someone specifically applies prayer to their process in facing challenges. (Try stories like this one and these.)

4. Join a prayer group or get a prayer partner.

I used to be totally against prayer groups and hotlines because I'd gotten to a point that I preferred prayer alone and in private, but my sister changed my mind on this. I'd noticed the boost in strength, confidence, and comradery she'd find in praying with other women—whether in person or via phone. The Bible even touts the significance of praying with unity with and for others (Matthew 18:19-20 and James 5:14-15). Listen, any effort done in numbers increases in power, and if you're new to praying, it's good to pray with someone who might have a bit more experience, have a special gift for prayer (1 Peter 4:10-11), and who can prepare us to feel at ease to begin praying on our own.

Tap into your network to find believers to pray with, or try a hotline. The Christian Broadcast Network has an awesome prayer line where you can talk to a live person and make requests, and many local churches offer phone or video prayer services. Utilize all of your resources and have patience.

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5. Invest in a daily devotional or prayer resource.

To remain connected to prayer and making it a regular part of your life, having devotionals or other resources is a must. I love books like "Starting Your Day Right" by Joyce Meyer, "When Women Pray" by T.D. Jakes, "Fervent: A Woman's Battleground for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer" by Priscilla Shirer, and "Servant Leadership" by J. Oswald Sanders. This women's devotional bible also is a favorite of mine. All of these books provide positive, easy-to-understand insights on faith, prayer, connection with God, and self-reflection.

There are also a few cool apps out there like Abide (which includes affirmations and Bible-based sleep meditation resources) and Echo Prayer (which offers reminders via phone or email and the option to share your favorite prayers with family and friends.) YouTube has some good prayer resources as well, and one I particularly like and consistently listen to is Daily Effective Prayer.

Prayer is personal, dynamic, and essential, and the way you choose to pray evolves along your spiritual journey. I find joy in the process, continue to seek God even when I've fallen off a bit, and strive to do whatever it takes to become stronger and stronger in the practice of it. I hope you will, too.

Are you a member of our insiders squad? Join us in the xoTribe Members Community today!

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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