Discerning between rabbit trail and rabbit hole conversations can be tricky. Let’s start with definitions.
A rabbit trail is when a conversation goes somewhere unintended. The focus goes off the script, and new pathways are explored. These “tangents” can, at times, be Spirit-led. Perhaps what you intended to talk about wasn’t really what was needed.
A rabbit hole, on the other hand, is when a conversation gets side-tracked, but not necessarily for a good reason. This can look like someone going on a rant or like when an individual always seems to funnel any topic and shift it to their preferred focus.
So, how can you tell if you are on a Spirit-led rabbit trail or spiraling down a rabbit hole? Here are some tips you can use.
Pray. It sounds obvious, but it truly is important. As the conversation continues, you can have your own vertical conversation and ask God to help you discern.
Look for emotions. A healthy rabbit trail could have emotional connections that would include values like vulnerability, curiosity, and openness. On the contrary, a rabbit hole likely exhibits hints or signs of monopolizing, control, and possibly even anger or dominance.
Consider the venue. At times a deeper conversation may be welcomed, and at other times it is inappropriate. If a topic needs to be addressed at a different time or in a different way, don’t be afraid to kindly call it out.
Discern the source. The original point of the conversation may need to take a back burner. Sometimes God uses a bait and switch approach to reveal an area that needs to be addressed. On the other hand, sometimes people use a bait and switch to steer conversation where they want it to go.
Beware the soapbox. Soapbox syndrome is when someone turns a conversation into a platform for their own agenda.
"O Lord, listen to my cry; give me the discerning mind you promised." Psalm 119:169
I’ve used and experienced each of these five and have learned from them. Often after a small group or even after a conversation, I debrief in my head, or with my husband if he was there, to consider whether the conversation was a rabbit trail or a rabbit hole. When I look back I see that at times the deepest and most life-changing conversations were unintended by me but were divine rabbit trails!
So, whether you are a support or small group leader, having a coaching session or conversation, I pray you will discern God’s agenda and lead the conversation well!