What Johnny Cash Knew About The Creative Process That Inspired Him For a Lifetime


One of the hardest parts about the creative process is that you have to do it over and over again. And the more you do it, the more you know how hard it is, which makes doing it again increasingly difficult. How do you keep it going?

One person who built a creative life spanning many decades and musical styles is Johnny Cash. What did he understand about the process that enabled him to stay connected to the zeitgeist through many changes over time?

Cash reflected on his craft with interviewer Barney Hoskyns in 1996:

He said, “My mother always told me that any talent is a gift of God and I always believed it. If I quit, I would just sit in front of a television and get fat and die.”

It’s no accident that Cash’s understanding of the creative process and his faith were intertwined.

Johnny understood that since we’re made in God’s image, we’re made to create – not just as something to do in a business meeting, or on a down weekend, not just in our cubicle or our workshop, but all the time, in every sphere of our life.

 

Creativity isn’t just for a hobby; it is our essence.

If we’re made in God’s image, we’re made to create. Each of us, truly, is special. It sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.

We’re made by God, in the image of God, with the breath of God, which means that we have in us the power to create great things. The moments of wonder we seek in life aren’t just dreams to dismiss; they’re within our grasp. This isn’t just motivational nonsense; it’s the actual nature of who we are as humans. We are born with the power of creativity, and it is a great power indeed.

In the same interview, when asked why he didn’t become a preacher when he was young, Johnny said, “In my world of religion, you’re called to preach by God or you don’t preach. If I have a calling, it’s to perform.”

Let’s all give thanks that Johnny Cash understood his gift was to create not through a pulpit but through a guitar, because we’re the better for it.

In my book Think Like a Five Year Old, I write,

In other words, in the beginning, we are each given, as part of the warranty of being human, a harmonic calling, the melody of a set of good things to do with our lives. As an image or representation of God, when we create, we reflect the character of God and the glory of God. Our God-given creative passion is our unique art and the source of our fulfillment.

Johnny Cash created throughout his life – and notably, never stopped creating, even as a 70-something widower – because of his understanding of his own creativity. He didn’t just create for fun. He created because creativity was his calling – both his joy and his responsibility.

 

Creating is both our joy and  our responsibility.

It’s what he was made to do, and so he did it.

Work is not meant to be drudgery. When we try to be something we’re not gifted to be, drudgery is what we get. Stop faking it! When we understand work as a joyful expression of our talents, not as a “should”, we’re one step closer to greatness.

When we understand our own giftedness and calling, and create from it and with it, the results of our creative process, or our work, builds culture, and becomes a part of God’s ongoing creative work in the world.

  1. Do you consider yourself creative? Why or why not?
  2. In what area of life might you become a co-creator with God?

 

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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