I came across these words of John Paul II, spoken at a youth rally in New Orleans in 1987, that I think convey a very important reminder about prayer. He said
Prayer…turns your attention away from yourself and directs your mind and your heart toward the Lord. If we look at ourselves, with our limitations and sins, we quickly give way to sadness and discouragement. If we keep our eyes on the Lord, they our hearts are filled with hope, our minds washed in the light of truth, and we come to know the fulness of the Gospel with all its promises and life.
I know this is true for me. I can feel the shift from the darkness and tightness that sometimes comes from focusing too much on my own limitations, to the space and light that comes spontaneously when my gaze is turned toward God.
I’m reminded in this context of Peter when Jesus asks him to walk toward him on the water. I can imagine Peter, eyes fixed on Jesus, taking those first steps. As long as his focus is on Jesus – and his love and his strength – his steps are firm. But I always imagine Peter then looking around and saying (something like), “Holy cow! I can’t walk on the water. I’m not strong enough to do that.” And as soon as his focus shifts from Jesus to his own limited abilities, he sinks.
The more we develop a regular prayer life, the more easily we can direct our mind and our heart toward God and all of what God offers to us.