Rebbe Nachman of Breslov tells us an extremely important principle about prayer: “It is forbidden for a person to stubbornly demand in their prayers that G-d do precisely as they ask, because this is akin to taking something by force, by robbing it.”
“Instead,” continues the Rebbe, “a person must pray with compassionate pleas and entreaties. If G-d grants their request, He grants it, and if not, not” (Likutey Moharan I, Lesson #196).
Rebbe Nachman is telling us we must never make demands during prayer. Requests are appropriate but they need to remain just that – requests.
At the root of this teaching lies the fundamental truth that we don’t really know what is good for us. To demand outcomes would be highly inappropriate given our limited understanding. Therefore, we request outcomes which we perceive as beneficial for ourselves, but we never demand.
Rabbi Shalom Arush takes this idea even further and suggests that before we daven for anything, no matter how great the necessity, we first thank Hashem for our lack of that very necessity.
To illustrate, Rabbi Arush tells the story of an elderly bachelor who came to him full of complaints for all the hardships he’d endured and for the fact he had remained a bachelor all these years. Rabbi Arush told him, “First thank Hashem that you have yet to marry. Then, and only then, can I help you.”
The man replied, “What?!? How can I be thankful that I have not yet married? It’s so painful for me that I have remained a bachelor all these years!”
Rabbi Arush continued, “If Hashem has not let you marry until now, you must understand that it is for your own good. So thank Him! As long as you continue believing Hashem has done you an injustice, you can’t even smile. Therefore, say ‘Thank You.’ Thank Hashem and pray with true belief that if you have not yet married, it is for your own benefit. Hashem makes no mistakes. Through gratitude you will find the faith that not marrying until now is part of your soul ‘correction’ and for your true benefit. If you listen to this advice, you will witness salvation!”
Rabbi Arush doesn’t conclude the story by telling us the man thanked Hashem for his situation and got engaged to the perfect woman a short time later. Because whether that happened or not isn’t the point. The takeaway for us is that we need to be grateful even for our misfortunes. This is certainly easier said than done and may require extensive spiritual growth on our part. May Hashem help us to grow in our faith that everything He does is for our eternal good.