I recently read an in-depth profile of Ralph Lauren, the creator of the iconic American apparel brand sold under his name, and often simply referred to as “Polo.” Lauren is the quintessential story of the American Dream. It’s a story to which many can relate.
The son of immigrant Ashkenazi Jewish parents, young “Ralphie” grew up in humble surroundings in the Bronx. He dreamed of being a movie star, a cowboy, and of marrying Audrey Hepburn. In his high school yearbook he wrote “millionaire” as one of his life goals. He dropped out of college and worked as a clerk for Brooks Brothers. Eventually he made his own line of neckties, and landed an account with Bloomingdale’s flagship store in NYC. Fast forward to today. Ralph Lauren is now one of the largest apparel brands in the world. Total revenue was $7.4 billion in 2016. Ralph Lauren himself is worth over $5 billion.
Not bad for the American Dream, right? You would think that this level of success would leave a person completely secure, content and happy. But from a biblical perspective, is his life really complete? Does Lauren prove that life is really about success, money, fame and the ability to do anything you want?
In his biography of the icon titled, Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren, author Michael Gross makes this fascinating observation:
When, as often happens, Lauren runs into old acquaintances from his boyhood in the Bronx, he often asks the same question about the people he used to know, people who knew him under the name he was born with, Ralphie Lifshitz. “Do they know who I am?” He’s an affirmation junkie, constantly in need of fresh proof that he’s special . . . He’s a control freak; no one in his company can make a move without him. Yet he’s tortured with doubt about his place in a wider world he doesn’t control.
“Do they know who I am?” Really? Who cares if they know who you are, you’re Ralph Lauren!!! What is left to prove? Isn’t seeing that little polo player stitched above the left breast onto millions and millions of shirts the world over affirmation enough?
No. It’s not.
Michael Gross’ observation that Lauren is “tortured with doubt about his place” in the world makes biblical sense. The Bible categorically states that our heart cannot receive enough approval from other people to satisfy us. Even if we have a name that is literally stitched onto the clothing that millions of people are wearing, we still want to know, “Do they know who I am?” The hole in our heart remains.
In John 5:44, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” That’s all of us. We want glory, but we want the godless glory that is the praise of man. We do not seek the glory that comes from God. Romans 3:23 repeats this same truth: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The problem is not the search for glory. We were made for glory. We were made to glorify God and reflect his glory through lives of joyful obedience. Idolatry is stealing his glory for ourselves and stitching it on our hearts-in a thousand different ways-so that we might receive praise from others.
The one thing that can satisfy the heart of Ralph Lauren – and every heart – is to hear from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). That’s the affirmation that every human desperately longs for and was created for, even though we don’t acknowledge it, and constantly yearn to know that we are special.
“Do they know who I am?” Let’s ask the question from a biblical perspective: “Do I know who God is? Does God know me and accept me as his beloved child?” If you have His approval, does anyone else’s really matter? How can you obtain His approval? “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
Ralph Lauren is really not too different from all of us. He is searching for glory. He won’t find it through his enormously successful company, no matter how much revenues grow. Even if his name is stitched onto the shirt of every human being on planet earth, the search for glory will go on until he has God’s affirmation.
“You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” – Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Josh Desch came on staff as Pastor in 2011 and is now its Associate Pastor. He oversees our Youth and CrossRoads (Young Adults) Ministries.