One especially helpful bit of advice: Maybe it's not the time to tell your spouse your mother is coming to visit for a month!
Yes, we all have the best of intentions on Sunday. We all dream of heading to church as a well-pressed family with polished shoes and rosy cheeks, all sweetly scented by the morning’s maple syrup-drenched waffles, traveling in unison to worship God.
And yet, when the verbal firebombs start exploding as soon as everyone gets into the car we are never surprised. It somehow feels sadly inevitable, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t have to be, though. My husband, our six kids and I are, thanks be to God, having fewer of these depressing pre-church meltdowns lately, because we’ve been practicing the 3 Ps:
1. Prepare 2. Pray 3. Pause
Step 1: Prepare
Take a quick moment Friday afternoon to specifically ask God to pour out His graces when you are preparing yourself and your family for Sunday worship. Make it clear you’re requesting help precisely in the effort to bring your family to God this Sunday. The words of the prayer matter little; just be sincere.
Then comes the practical preparation. On Saturday night, decide with your spouse upon a specific departure time (and the implied wake-up time). Many disputes originate from one partner’s tendency to run late. End this problem without laying blame or pointing fingers by choosing a departure time that will result in the family arriving 10 minutes early. Oddly, early is easier for my family to accomplish than on time. I don’t know why; it’s a mystery, and Sunday is a special day for celebrating mysteries, so I’ll leave it at that.
Also on Saturday night, lay out nice clothes and shoes. Tuck clean socks in those shoes. Fill a crockpot with oatmeal and a coffee pot with water and fresh grounds.
Before bed, read and discuss with your family the gospel that will be the focus of tomorrow’s sermon. (You can find out the day’s readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/)
Step 2: Pray (again)
As soon as you open your eyes Sunday morning, give thanks for the day and ask for divine help specifically with the details of tressing and trundling your tribe down the road to church. Repeat the prayer all throughout the morning when frustrations arise — because they will. The shortened version, “Help me, God,” works great.
Stomp out Satan with your intercession. Satan does not want you to go to Mass and is happy to hiss excuses into your ear, in order to dissuade. As trials arise on Sunday morning, remember the old adage (repeat it aloud to yourself and your spouse): “We have an enemy, but it’s not each other.”
More to read: Pope Francis: Beware of the Devil Couching at the Door
Step 3: Pause
Almost as important as praying is pausing.
It’s Sunday morning, you’re 10 minutes away from your pre-determined departure time and your spouse says, “I was thinking of having my aunt, her 11 kids and their 14 hamsters visit this summer for an unspecified length of time. What do you think of that, honey?”
Pause. Don’t answer. At all. Then say something like: “We need to leave for church in 10 minutes. Let’s talk about this when we get home.” If it’s your teenager who is derailing your church-bound momentum by asking permission to go on a date, use the same tactic. Be on special alert in case it’s your own thoughts causing the distraction. (Why have these children still not learned to put away their shoes? Am I failing as a mom?) Pause. Move on. Tell yourself that you will talk to yourself about this when you’ve returned home. Not on the drive to church. Heavy themes are off-limits then too. You’re preparing to meet with Jesus in a special way. Let him be your focus.
Pope John Paul II taught us that Communion is the “source and summit” of Christian life. If the Eucharist is the summit of our lives, we should begin praying and planning for Mass well before we open our eyes Sunday morning.
It doesn’t take much time or organization but it makes a world of difference.
Let’s get to church!
More to read: Ringleading the circus to Mass and finding Mercy