I find that the Orthodox prayer book cultivates this awareness of my weakness with its many cries of "Lord, have mercy." Sometimes I am engaged in some activity that doesn't allow me to give my full attention to prayer, but I am still burdened over a difficult situation or the need of a friend. I can express my helplessness to do anything by human strength, my inability to even think about what a solution might be, by praying "Lord, have mercy," as many times as necessary to reach a place of quietness of heart.At some level, we believe that we are not saved through our weakness, but will be saved through our strength, and that the whole life of grace is God’s effort to make us stronger – never suspecting that God’s grace may actually be purposefully developing our weaknesses.
I often tell people who say they are struggling with prayer to quit trying to pray like a Pharisee and learn to pray like a Publican. We often want to pray from strength – to approach God when we at least feel spiritually alive. The Publican refuses to lift his eyes to heaven. The contradiction of his life and the goodness of God are more than he can bear. And yet he prays. And, ironically, it is he who goes down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.
As Psalm 103 reminds us weekly, "He remembers that we are dust." When I pray that, I feel the love and tenderness of the Lord. He knows our weakness, and when we know it too, and pray with that understanding, we are near to Him.