What is the relationship between prayer and conversion?
Part III: Three Conversions Through Trial: Trial II
The second trial is that of how to do good… In his crying out to the Lord, he is heard and the Lord breaks his chains of difficulty…To abstain from every sort of sin has not become easy. God could have granted this without difficulties, but if there were no difficulties, we would not appreciate the Giver of this good gift. For if man at first did not feel the weight of desire’s chains whenever he wished, and his soul were not wounded by the weight of its chains, he would think to attribute what he was now able to do to his own strength, never confessing the mercies of the Lord.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
Man has now set his foot upon the path, upon the Way; yet this does not mean that his journeying is suddenly of ease without care. He has awakened from his slumber, sought the light, passed through the trial of the desire to remain in twilight or return to the darkness, has cried out to God, and God, in His own good time, has begun the illumination of man’s soul; to make it to desire Him, know Him, do His will, and be united with Him. This is the great work of the Lord, and yet, here man struggles against this work. Man struggles because he desires to do good and to be good, and yet sees himself all the more clearly chained as the light of God becomes brighter. That which is written upon the human heart and the illuminating light teaches man what it is to do good, yet he is often restrained from doing so because of his own vices. In seeing the path, and stepping upon it, his question of how might I do good? becomes his trial. For as the creature, yet who bears the image of God, yet who is chained by sin and vice, he is faced with the trial of his forefather Adam; which is to accept that goodness, knowing it, and doing it comes not by his own hand but by the Hand of the Lord. It is the trial of pride; that in knowing sin and being bound by it, that man might deliver himself, be the master of himself, his own liberation, master of his fate, and ultimately to be like gods in commanding what binds and loosens his own soul. Only in crying out to God in prayer; in acknowledging his own littleness before God, his utter dependency to both exist and act, can he find freedom from his bonds, the ability to walk the path of the good, and to arrive at his eternal destination.
God might, at any time, remove the bonds of sin from man. This is easy for Him, but it is not easy for man to abstain from every sin, for in man the root of sin is his pride that he himself can choose and do what is good according to his own pleasure. If this root is not cut out, the barren fig tree will regrow in man’s heart. God so permits man to know the weight of the chains of sin, and the wounds that come from struggling against the iron, not simply as just punishment, but as means for purifying man of his pride. It is so that man might be abased of the prideful assumption the he can be and do as he pleases, but rather that being and doing is as the Lord pleases. That man might confess the mercies of the Lord and ever more trust in His Goodness.