I didn’t have a mother’s day post this last week because like most mothers I was busy… mothering. The funny thing about this holiday—especially when you have young children—is that you really don’t get a break. The funnier thing is that you can’t really imagine taking one.Because mothering is the kind of work you celebrate by actually doing it.

It took me a while to figure this out, but I don’t think I’m alone in this. On Sunday, after I had fed, dressed, and dragged three children to church--only to have one of them wildly run down the hallway screaming “NOOOOO!!!!” as I tried to deposit him in the nursery--I found myself talking with two friends who are also mothers of young children.  I asked what they had planned for the day and the first said she was hoping that the ground beef had thawed out because she was going home to make dinner; the other had a sick husband and child, was juggling two other children, and trying to figure out how to attend a family funeral over two hours away.

But no on seemed to care. None of us seemed put out that our Mother’s Day was spent mothering.

Don’t get me wrong—we were all tired. We would have loved to have had breakfast in bed, a spa retreat, or even the day to ourselves. But somewhere on the road to becoming the mothers we were, we had learned something. As wonderful as those things are, they really aren’t the point. You don’t mother to be praised, you don’t mother to be rewarded, you don’t mother for the recognition. You mother because you love.

But unlike common wisdom, this love doesn’t magically appear when you hold your first child. No, becoming a mother that loves happens incrementally, it happens through the sleepless nights, the temper tantrums (yours and theirs), and shared joys. It happens through the daily grind, from changing out winter wardrobes for spring, and extracting chewing gum from baby-fine hair. And through it all, motherhood changes you—in the sacrifices, you become braver and in the loving, you become kinder.

My sister-in-law and I were talking about this a couple days ago—we’ve been friends since college, friends before husbands, friends before children. So we’ve seen a lot of changes in each others lives, and we definitively, undeniably agreed that being a mother has been the most excruciating, most productive spiritual exercise either of us had ever experienced.

I think it's because mothering forces you to recognize things about yourself that you’d rather not have known: your helplessness, your inconsistency, you selfishness. All in one typical day, you discover that you can't make the fever break, you can’t make this child obey you, you are feeding them chicken nuggets while reading the blog post telling you how terrible chicken nuggets are, and you routinely think about all the things you’d rather be doing than cleaning up poop.

And in these moments, you have to cry out for something bigger and better than your own ability to be a “good’ mother. You have to cry out to Him. You have to find His strength and His patience and His love. You have to have His courage and His determination in order to parent like He does.

And that is what changes you. He changes you. He uses this temporary relationship with your children to produce eternal and lasting joy. He uses it to make us like Himself. So that in the end, I don’t know if I can guarantee my children will be better people because of my mothering. But I do know this—mothering them has made me a better one.