The Magnifying Glass of Motherhood

Aleksandr Solzhneitsyn said of his prison cell in the Russian gulag that it taught him how to run a magnifying glass over life.

Not the perspective one would expect from a man falsely-imprisoned in one of the most cruel prison systems in history.

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made
to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

I am pretty certain that this would not have been my natural reaction to sharing a dark, cramped cell with other zeks, the Russian word for prisoners. And yet that prison cell, that limiting, uncomfortable, claustrophobic place became a place of great freedom to Solzhneitsyn. Perspective is everything.

Trapped in horrid conditions, unable to roam freely, unable to eat or use the bathroom when he wished, he grew an appreciation for the smallest things, things he formerly had taken for granted or completely missed in his dizzying pursuit of prosperity.

Since reading Gulag Archipelago (more like slugging through that beast of a book), the image of the magnifying glass has not left my mind. When I became a mother, Solzhneitsyn’s magnifying glass became the most powerful tool for perspective in my life.

I am not comparing motherhood to the gulags, although there are days when that comparison may fit. But motherhood can feel very monotonous and claustrophobic to me at times.


There are days when everyone else in the world seems to be running past, while I sit on my front stoop folding laundry ad nauseam. Others are chasing down dreams, pursuing success and getting things accomplished while I sit in my uncoordinated pajamas reading Goodnight Gorilla and Safari Babies and eating PB&J for the fourteen thousandth time.

But then I think of my man Aleksandr on his rotting straw in prison, experiencing freedom and true beauty. And I get my proverbial magnifying glass and run it over my life, my surroundings, my day.

There are gifts here, things I would miss were I not tethered to these precious little humans, trapped in the confines of our home and the 5-mile radius in which I run errands.

“…The object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

Wise words from a wise man who endured suffering beyond what I am able to imagine, yet found life and liberty in the midst of an oppressive regime.

If he found life and maturity for his soul there, in the worst life could throw at him, I can surely find life here in a land of freedom, in a home with healthy children, in the hands of a God who loves us far more than we could imagine.

Today I am thankful for the magnifying glass that is motherhood.

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