Jesus Christ gave up his life that we might live, therefore, whoever wishes to carry the cross for his sake must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of the Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one's own death; sixth, remembrance of God's glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert.
St. Catharine of Bologna, On the Seven Spiritual Weapons
An obscure 15th Century Poor Clare puts her finger on so many of our troubles in following the way of prayer. Well, on mine, at least!
I'm aware that in the first decade of the 21st Century Sister Catharine's second weapon will sound a little strange to some, accustomed as we are to thoughts of self-realisation, self-actualisation, self-improvement, self-importance... but it is honestly essential. The older I get, and the longer I keep at this strange occupation of ours, the more it seems essential.
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17.9 NIV)
The heart deceives itself; it deceives the very person in whose breast it beats. Unless we trust God utterly, and ourselves very little, we're going to trip over every spiritual obstacle, and every quirk of our own humanness - what used to be called "the flesh".
There's nothing perverse or sinister in what Catharine is saying. It's only when we don't take her advice that we have recourse to hair shirts and cold baths. So long as we walk in the way of the Psalmist who said, "I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands." (Psalm 119.176 NIV) we'll be OK. God's word will light our path, and all our prayers will be from the heart of a God we can trust utterly, who holds our trembling helplessness gently in his pierced hands, and loves us no matter what.