It happens to everyone. You’re heading to church and the toddler throws up on his sister. And on her shoes.  In the car. Or you get in the car and realize your teenager brought it home with the gas tank on empty last night. These are the flat tires of life, the moments when we summon patience and realize we are not going to be on time, if we make it there at all.

I don’t know anyone who slides effortlessly through life without the occasional mishap that makes them late to church, work, appointments, trains, and more.  But the key word here is occasional.  What I’d like to address is chroniclateness, which in our culture has acquired the unfortunate label “Mormon Standard Time.” And it makes us squirm even more if we retitle it “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Standard Time.” Suddenly we realize how very wrong it looks to pair chronic lateness with our Savior.

Now that we have new, shorter Sunday meetings, it seems it’s more important than ever to address the importance of getting to church on time.

First, let’s always give folks the benefit of the doubt when we’re on time and they are not. They may have had car trouble, a terrible episode at home, a panic attack in the parking lot—we could make an endless list of legit reasons for their tardiness. Maybe they stopped to help someone in need, a truly Christian act. Assume they have a good heart (and you’ll be right nearly 100% of the time). We are all children of our Heavenly Father and our own lives are more peace-filled when we remember that.

Next, let’s forgive ourselves when we are that person. Let’s mentally say, “Okay, this is not a habit, this is an exception.” Or “This isn’t like me– I am usually prompt.” If someone makes a comment, let it roll off. You do not have to own their labels.    

Finally, if you know in your heart that you are regularly late, let’s make this the year when that all changes (incidentally, what a great way to delight your friends and family). So how do you undo years of a bad habit and make it to church on time?  Here are seven ways to throw off the “old man” and start anew:

  1. Find the desire.  Like any change, we have to want it.  Even gaining a testimony begins with desire. And that’s true of everything from cleaning out a closet to overcoming addiction. We have to truly want it and make it a priority. Perhaps remembering why we even go to church will help. We’re not there to tick a box and prove we’re “active.” We’re there to worship. And that begins in the (hopefully) quiet moments before the meeting even starts. We reverently enter, we warmly greet newcomers and dear friends, we allow the prelude music to reach us and teach us, we sit and contemplate the Sacrament that we’re about to take, we think of the things we need to repent of. But we lose all that if we rush in late. Maybe it’s a matter of deciding that your worship  experience actually begins ten minutes earlier than you thought it did.
  2. Be honest with yourself.Take some time for introspection about whyyou’re late. A friend of mine who struggles with punctuality shared some of her research with me. She said many experts claim that some (not all) perpetually tardy people do it to assert power. Or to rebel against someone. Or because the event is just obligatory and they don’t actually want to be there.  Or they think they can cram more into their morning than will actually fit. Or they’re naïve about how long it will really take to get there.  Or there’s someone there they wish to avoid. In addition, latecomers may blame an absent spouse or the number of kids they have to manage, but the underlying causes are more important to address. Then she said that while learning about these reasons was interesting, it didn’t describe how she felt. In her case, she simply hadn’t made it a priority.  Growing up her family had never defined punctuality as a virtue, something important to shoot for. Now she wants to change the pattern.
  3. Use tricks and techniques that can help.Take some time on Saturday night to prepare. Involve the whole family. Lay out clothes and shoes for children. Load the diaper bag.  Gather any materials you’ll need for your calling. Do not try to prepare a quick lesson on Sunday morning.
  4. As you get ready set an alarm that will give you a ten-minute warning, then a two-minute warning.Involve the whole family by making a different person the Official Timer each week.  Give them a bell to ring or a cone to shout through and make it fun. It will convey to everyone that punctuality is important in your family. It also teaches kids what five minutes feels like. I personally believe that some people are late because they never taught their bodies and brains what ten minutes or twenty minutes actually is. They have no idea if they can get ready in half an hour—maybe it really takes them 45 minutes—but they were never told, “We’re leaving in five minutes” by anyone who made that stick. So “five minutes” became a slippery concept, and a synonym of “in awhile.”
  5. Allow for disasters.Give yourself a margin of time by leaving early. Then there’s no stress or scrambling. And if you arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins, consider it a blessing that you can now spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation, reading scriptures, or checking in with members you’ve included in your prayers. Teach your children how to use this extra time wisely as well.
  6. Give yourself the New Year’s gift of a great reputation for being on time.Redefine yourself as an early bird. Even in the workplace you’ll be seen as more competent, more organized, more considerate, more able to handle a promotion. You will not scramble through life on a string of apologies, and all your relationships will improve.  When we apply this to church attendance, we can see the benefits immediately—a better experience drawing close to the Savior, a greater opportunity to feel the Spirit, perhaps the chance for service–to greet an investigator who’s there with the missionaries, and a less disrupted meeting for others.
  7. Take power.I mentioned that experts say some people arrive late as a way to show power. But think of promptness as showing even more power!  You have prepared ahead, overcome distractions, led the way, and ta-da! Here you are, ready for a wonderful Sabbath experience.  It’s a beautiful way to show kindness not only to our brothers and sisters in the room, but to ourselves. We can now drink more deeply of the Spirit, and perhaps we will even hear the answer to a prayer. Do it for you.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperbackand on Kindle.  All her books and YouTubeMomvideos can be found on her website.  She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.