Prayer means entering into communion with the One who loved us before we could love. It is this "first love" (1 John 4:19) that is revealed to us in prayer. The more deeply we enter into the house of God, the house whose language is prayer, the less dependent we are on the blame or praise of those who surround us, and the freer we are to let our whole being be filled with that first love. As long as we are still wondering what other people say or think about us and trying to act in ways that will elicit a positive response, we are still victimized and imprisoned by the dark world in which we live. In that dark world we have to let our surroundings tell us what we are worth... As long as we are in the clutches of that world, we live in darkness, since we do not know our true self. We cling to our false self in the hope that maybe more success, more praise, more satisfaction will give us the experience of being loved, which we crave. That is the fertile ground of bitterness, greed, violence, and war.
In prayer, however, again and again we discover that the love we are looking for has already been given to us and that we can come to the experience of that love. Prayer is entering into communion with the One who molded our being in our mother's womb with love and only love. There, in the first love, lies our true self, a self not made up of the rejections and acceptances of those with whom we live, but solidly rooted in the One who called us into existence. In the house of God we were created. To that house we are called to return. Prayer is the act of returning.
I think we often fail to see bitterness, greed, violence, and war as the result of having lost our identity. It is such a sad thing to see someone give in to those vices. And so often when we enter into their prison, we feel it should be someone else's responsibility to remove us. The road has been paved; the door has been unlocked... but it is us who must walk out; and walk back to God; to find our own true selves... in his image.