Sometimes, motherhood feels like death.

Sleepless nights and endless diapers are only the beginning of the exhausting and mundane work that often accompanies raising children. While all believers are called to embrace death to self, mothers can be intimately acquainted with this cruciform life, clinging by faith to the paradoxical promise of the gospel: that in death, we find life (Lk 9:24).

But while there’s joy to be found in this work of daily dying, there’s also a day set aside each year to honor the sacrifice of mothers—Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day can be a complicated holiday, filled with joy and honor or pain and frustration, depending on the circumstances. I’ve experienced the range of this spectrum, in part because my dying seems to reach its peak every Mother’s Day. I count the reasons my family should appreciate me—every momentary death a point on my scorecard—and as May approaches, I’m ready to cash in.

This year, I’m considering a different approach. What if we embraced the way of the cross not only in our mothering, but on Mother’s Day? Here are three suggestions to help fight the entitlement that can creep in:

#1: Honor those who have mothered you.

The Bible commands us to honor our parents (Ex 20:12; Eph 6:1-3). Once we become the parents, we begin to read these passages (and teach them to our children) with ourselves in the position of receiving honor. But the command still applies to us; we’re all somebody’s children.

I've grown in my understanding and appreciation for my mom through my own experiences with motherhood, but those sentiments are mostly unexpressed as I live in the chaos of having young children.

This Mother’s Day, let’s first honor the women who raised us, loved us, and pointed us to Jesus. (And let’s not forget the women who helped shape our husbands into the wonderful men we married.) Consider also faithful spiritual mothers in the church who are often overlooked on this day because they don’t have biological children, but whose role in the church is invaluable (Rom 16:13, Titus 2:3-5). An elaborate gift isn’t necessary, but expressing our gratitude in actual words is.

We fight entitlement when we’re grateful for the good gifts God has given us. Experiencing joy on Mother's Day may begin with being grateful for those women God has used to mother us.

#2: Consider who you can serve.

Mother’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For women who have lost children or are longing for children, the public appreciation of mothers is often insult-to-injury. For women whose husbands are deployed, work long hours, or travel frequently, and for the 10.3 million single mothers in the U.S., it can be just another day of hard, unappreciated work.

I dreaded my first Mother’s Day. Sharing a bedroom with my five-month-old daughter in my parents’ house, the day served only as a reminder that I had no husband to buy me flowers or offer me rest. But friends and family filled in the gap. Recalling their thoughtfulness brings tears to my eyes—in the midst of a grueling, shame-filled season, they honored me and my mothering efforts on a day that was otherwise lonely and painful.

Who in your church could you serve this Mother’s Day? Small acts of thoughtfulness—an understanding card, a bouquet of flowers, a prepared meal, a gift card—could be a source of great encouragement. And for those gifts that require greater sacrifice—inviting these women into our celebrations or offering to watch their children for the day to give them a break—we serve with hope in what Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

#3: Communicate your desires; release your expectations.

When I was married and Mother’s Day approached, I could hardly contain my excitement. My first year of having a husband to make the day special! But when the day arrived and went about as usual, I was beyond disappointed. By the time we arrived at church and a friend asked how I was, I burst into tears.

The years since have improved in terms of my husband’s Mother’s Day acumen, but unfortunately, not always in terms of my attitude. I tend to approach Mother’s Day thinking about my “needs”: I need a break. I need to be appreciated. I need a massage. I need a nap. Paul Tripp writes of the danger of misdefining these desires as needs—”needs” become things to which we feel entitled and which we begin to demand. Then, he says, “We’ll judge the love of others by their willingness and/or ability to provide for us what we’ve declared a need.”

Choosing to focus on serving others on Mother’s Day will go a long way in fighting the entitlement that can creep in. But communication helps, too.

Our husbands can’t read our minds—sometimes the best way to help them love us well is to communicate our desires. At the same time, we must acknowledge that these desires aren’t needs, and that love means believing the best of our husbands, even when their efforts fall short of our expectations (1 Cor 13:7).

A Cruciform Mother’s Day

What we truly need every day—in our mothering and on Mother’s Day—is grace. And grace is promised to the humble (Js 4:6)—to those who look to Christ, believing only he can meet their deepest need.

Seeking to motivate the Philippian church to a life of humble service, Paul points to Christ, who relinquished his status as King and instead bent low, taking the position of a servant—a position that would ultimately lead to a shameful, humiliating death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8). At the cross, Christ bore my sin, that I might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet 2:24). His death is mine, but it’s also my example, that I might follow in his steps (1 Pet 2:21).

But death is never the end. Paul shows that Christ’s death leads to a sure conclusion: God has exalted him (v. 9-11). Just like Christ’s humility led to his exaltation, so it is for us as we’re united to him by faith: the path to glory is the cross. It’s the humble who will be exalted (1 Pet 5:16); sacrifice leads to reward.

This Mother’s Day, may we embrace the way of the cross, believing that our work in mothering is ultimately serving him, and that whether we’re honored on Mother’s Day or not, he has promised us a great inheritance (Col 3:23-24).

Kendra Dahl is a writer and has served as the Women's Discipleship Director for River City Church in Fargo, North Dakota. She and her husband have three children.