Devotional, Penetrating Prayer, by Donna Elkins

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Penetrating Prayer

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

In the early 1970s, two psychologists studied how individuals grew closer to each other in interpersonal relationships. They believed the key to developing a deeper interpersonal relationship was self-disclosure.

Like the layers of an onion, the researchers theorized that individuals gradually peel back information to share about themselves. Individuals go through what they called “stages of penetration” towards their inner core self as the relationship develops. The more you share information close to your inner core self, the more intimate your interpersonal relationship becomes. This is known as Social Penetration Theory.[1]

There are two aspects of disclosure that make up the picture of how intimate a relationship is.  First is the breadth or variety of topics about which an individual talks; the closer you are to someone the larger the breadth of topics you will share with them. Second is the depth or how close to the core of themselves individuals go when sharing about those topics. The closer to the core you disclose, the more intimate the relationship.

So, you may have a person at work you talk to about your fellow co-workers and your weekend plans. The breadth of your relationship is only two topics (co-workers and weekend plans). There may be a lot of depth when it comes to the topic of co-workers, but the depth is likely shallow when it comes to your personal weekend plans. That is not a close relationship. On the other hand, a relationship with your significant other or partner most likely includes a wide array of topics shared (breadth), and on many of those topics you likely have depth, that is, you are more likely to share at a deeper level or maybe all the way to your core.

How does Social Penetration Theory relate to our prayer lives?

Prayer is an important part of developing our relationship with God. In prayer, we share with God about different topics and at different depths. You can use your own prayer habits, considering the breadth and depth of your disclosures in prayer as one way determine how intimate your relationship to God is or is becoming.

Reflection: Do you self-disclose to God about a wide array of topics? Are any topics off limits in your conversation with Him? Do you self-disclose to God in depth on those topics or only at a surface level?

Today’s Challenge: Draw a Social Penetration Model of your relationship with God. Draw a diagram to look like layers into the core of an onion. Around the outside, label different topics about which you talk to God. Then under each topic shade in the layers to demonstrate to what depth you talk to Him about each topic. Are there changes you want to make in your prayer habits to develop a closer relationship to God?

Donna M. Elkins, Spalding University


[1] Punyanunt-Carter, N., PhD. (2022). Social penetration theory. Salem Press Encyclopedia.


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