The Value of Journaling

“There are places like this everywhere,
places you enter as a young girl
from which you never return.”

Whenever grown-ups spoke, I often forgot to whisper or disappear. It took some time before I understood that my mother’s home was not a democracy. That my words were only welcomed upon invitation, particularly when we had guests.

Growing up my two older sisters gave me the confidence to be. I would simply let myself be, either of the two – depending on the day. Though they had lives of their own, it mattered to me that they invited me in, even at the end just so we could all laugh, huddle together – in a shared world. If they shut me out, I mildly hid or looked away to pretend I did not mind this exclusion.

My late father had made it his supreme goal to have his children attend the best schools. So at the tender age of six, I moved to hostel, a city away from home. It was 1996, the year the South African Schools Act (SASA) repealed discriminatorily charged legislation, allowing for children of color to be admitted into formerly closed schools.

We registered, had dorm rooms allocated to us. Mom dropped me off with all necessities in my suitcase, toiletries, towels, new toothbrush. With other six years olds I learned how to make my own bed here. We learned how to jump off from our top bunks to the ground without breaking a leg. We were raised here, in our uniforms; trained through break bells and saying grace. We were rewarded with tuck goodies; regulated through prep and bedtimes. Some nights, our heads would hang, held up by hands-on cheeks as we chatted and chuckled past lights out.

Home Going

At the end of the term, with my suitcase in hand, I remember eagerly waiting- anticipating mamas arrival. I see her from a distance, a woman gowned in black clothing, as a symbol of mourning. I am thrilled. I spring towards the gate, arms held wide open to embrace her, the closer I get I am disappointed that the image of my mother blurs, becoming increasingly unfamiliar. I realize it is not her.


So instead, I let my arms fall and pretend to be on a light jog, intending to take a U-turn by the gate. I numb myself from the rising perception of rejection, this thing in me that keeps saying;

“she IS not coming for you.”

“She has forgotten you,” and “you are not loved.”

I am not certain where or how this acacia of rejection grew, thorning its memory into my conscience.

But I remembered this feeling over and over, each year on my birthday, January 5th. I would plead with my father to appear to me in a dream. This is the only present I sought from him, a conversation. As a child, I thought this was the least he could do to make up for the distance he had permitted between me and him through death. This yearly request began as a plea, ending as a mere offer for him to prove himself – one more chance to simply show up.

” places like this everywhere, places 
from which you never return.”

In primary and at the start of secondary school, this desire to be visible persisted. I remember chuckling at jokes I did not find funny, merely flapping sheets of sound, to stay within. I’d feel the tiny little gaps poking at me, waiting to expose this faked laugh. I shrill, remembering this sense of being an outsider. Those around me seemed so certain, at the time. So ready. It seemed something was shaky with me.

Once, for instance, a girl sat in my designated chair in our base class. I-did-not-know how to ask her to move. Instead, ayy-y aa sat at the back. The next day after being hyped by a friend, I mustered enough courage to utter the words shyly, “that’s my chair” and without resistance, she whooshed over. I wondered then, and ay-yy I still wonder now.. what had made me so afraid to speak?

It’s as though I believed that communicating honestly would lend me in the fault lines of friendships.

“These are  places you enter as a young girl.”

My greatest gift is being a thinker and teacher. But as a child this excessive philosophizing and finding insights to teach friends on our way to the bus stop, was often awkward, to say the least, and often untimely. So I’d cut the words short and reduce the true meaning of what I intended to say. Quickly appearing to be silly or absentminded. In the biting and hiding, I learned how to be socially correct, how to be more desirable. How to make friends and keep them, what was permissible to say and not to say.

“Places like this everywhere, places you enter as a young girl
from which you never return.”

I don’t know what you think, but I suspect that adult(ing) was in exchange for the disappearance. Or the other way around, you had to disappear to adult. These are the places many of us enter as young girls and boys, places from which many (sadly) never return.”

These are moments in my story.  I write them to you so that in reading my own, you would be reminded of your own journeying. All that you may have had to give up and give away to be(come). The ways in which we act today, our habits, our fears, our shadows, and doubts can often be traced back. Chasms in the soul.

In my early teens, God’s word quickened my fall, offering life to the places in me that had become familiar with being on the edges. I shudder thinking of how frail my soul would be had I not been redeemed. Albeit, the true becoming is a continuous process. It requires time. Inner work. It often beckons me to sit, with myself-alone. It calls out for me to really dig, to order my private world so I can cultivate true inner peace and more authentically respond to the questions (1) Who am I- identity? (2) Where am I from- my source? (3) Why am I here – purpose (4) What can I do – abilities? (5) Where am I going – destiny

Journaling is one of the means to this end. I have jotted 10 reasons why I have found this practice useful:


  1. Journaling enables you to “enter a relationship with yourself before anyone else.”
  2. Journaling enables you to take stock. At the end of a good or a bad day to sit down and think through the meaning(s) that you are constructing from your experiences.
  3. Journaling enables you to process your thoughts, making time to detangle and to finds seeds and patterns that continue to surface. Letting them simmer is a means towards meditation and mediation is the pathway to deeper understanding. This includes understanding yourself, those around you and the world in which you live. The clearer your understanding, the more powerfully you can impact the world and the more effectively you can live out your purpose.
  4. Journaling allows you to be self-reliant. There are moments when it is not time yet to share your vision or story even with your most trusted friends. It becomes important to do the digging, the groundwork, ‘being intimate with self’. This self-reliance, I believe, builds an integrity of the soul.
  5. Journaling allows you to protect others. For instance, when you are in conflict with another, it is not always necessary to seek counsel from a third party. Sometimes all it requires is for you to do the detangling and then to honestly communicate with the person. However, seeking counsel from a third party can easily taint the reputation of another-because people unconsciously form their own judgments and often keep a record of wrongs. This can at times be avoided.
  6. Journaling is a unique way to store your goals and visions.
  7. Consistent journaling promotes intentionality. The clarity you gain from recording your days and your vision(s) will have you thinking about how better to live out your days, in sum your life… Journaling will often lead you to think through whether you could have handled certain situations better, how to be better the next time you are confronted with a similar challenge…
  8. Journaling is a unique way to keep an account of all your answered prayers, your ideas, and thoughts. Finding words you had inked years before, seeing them fulfilled is encouraging and has for me been a strong reminder of God’s faithfulness to the plans he has written for my life.
  9. Journaling is like a memory box in your own words. It offers you the opportunity to laugh at yourself, years later. It allows you to appreciate the encounters and the experiences that you have had.  I ALWAYS ALWAYS carry a journal when I travel, years later I read these entries and they prompt a deep gratitude in me for the life I am living and the opportunities that I continue to have. If not for any other reasons related to this somber post…..
  10. Journaling can improve your writing skills.


2 thoughts on “The Value of Journaling

  1. Luyanda Ntshingila

    Hi Sihle. I really enjoyed this reflective piece on yourself and the gift of journaling. I especially resonate with #8, as I have had this experience before. I really value the practice of journaling, but find myself to be inconsistent or sometimes don’t know where to start. Can you suggest any cool journaling methods, prompts, exercises or apps that you have found to be cool and interesting?

    Thanks 🙂
    Looking forward to your response.


  2. Hello Luyanda, I hope you’re well. So glad you enjoyed this post. #8 is a real heartwarmer, it reminds me so much of Psalm 139 “oh Lord you have searched me and you know me(…)How precious are your thoughts of me oh God, how vast is the sum of them, if I were to number them, they would outnumber the grains in the sand”

    To respond to your question (which I really enjoyed thinking about), I would say keeping a pen in your journal goes a long way. Nothing worse than wanting to write then not finding a mere pen, haha!

    2) I keep my journal next to my bed, at any time when I think about wanting to detail my thoughts, it’s convenient. Sometimes If I know I am thinking more than usual then I’ll carry my journal with me to work, on my break I take it out and I put some notes down.

    3) I consciously set aside time to reflect at least once a week, the days of the week often influence the tone of my thoughts. If I do it on a Sunday, it’s often in thinking about how I want my coming week to be, if on a Friday I am often reflecting on the week that was, on a Saturday, it often feels like resetting my life, thinking out large, who I am, what I am doing, how I am doing life etc. Lastly for me, there are those moments when I really feel something, either deep concern, at times unrelenting joy maybe after a deep laugh with a friend and I often choose to respect those moments (by not moving too quickly out of them), so then I’ll pick up my journal and write, the pure feeling of the moment and I’ll find I’m usually most honest then which is important.

    4. Setting aside reflection questions to is also useful. This is a really useful thread that I keep reading & want to work through

    4. Lastly (overshare), I am deliberate about being honest with myself when I journal. I think it takes so much time to sound like yourself in the world, you often are negotiating relationships, overthinking, not saying too much. So then I think of journaling as a primary place where I don’t edit/process my words for someone else’s peace, in the pursuit of building the most authentic version of myself to myself. OK, that’s a mouthful.

    Byeee! xx


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