You know, there are a whole lot of things in this life we can "work hard" for and see our goals achieved. Olympic hopefuls put years and years into training for their sport - hopeful they achieve the goal of the coveted gold medal or new world's record. The student who pours through the books, takes copious notes, and studies like nobody's business might dream of being valedictorian at graduation. The person who opens a business with a clever new idea is hopeful it will catch they eye of others and become a success as a result of their hard work and commitment to their product or service. They can dream big, work hard, and still not come out on top, though. Big dreams coupled with hard work are commendable, but only so far. You see, God never intended us to do the "hard work" of salvation - he only intended us to work alongside him once we received the "gift" of his salvation. No amount of hard work yields the same results in heaven's economy as his gift accomplishes.
If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift. (Romans 4:4-5 MSG)
Why is it so important for us to understand this difference between God's gift and our hard work? In essence, I think God wants us to recognize the futility of any effort on our part where it applies to this gift. When we work and strive, it is wages we earn, not a gift. The "job" of salvation is pretty much over our heads - we cannot accomplish the tasks with any efficiency, the necessary accuracy, nor the requisite sinless sacrifice it requires. Therefore, no matter how much we work, we are only earning wages - not salvation. We do something good and reap good results. This is not salvation - it is works yielding positive outcomes. A gift isn't earned - it is given without strings, freely, and sacrificially.
What I think God wants us to recognize is how we bite off more than we can chew when it comes to trying to "earn" salvation through any means requiring our own effort. It is a job "too big" for us - something only God can do. What we "do" is trust. Now, at first this may not seem like very much on our part, but if you have ever tried to trust God with what you think is way too impossible for him to handle (like your short-comings or failures), you know exactly how much "effort" this takes on our part! It is something akin to giving birth - you find yourself going through a long process of labor pains, pushing, yelling, kicking, screaming, etc.! What you don't remember is that this new life is about to be birthed - not by any effort of your own, but because it is gift of God. All you DO is get with the process!
This thing we call trust is really faith. Faith is allowing God to do what we cannot without "taking back" from God what rightly belongs in his care to begin with. It takes some tremendous effort on our parts to leave things in his hands which we think of as: "Oh, that little thing, I can handle it". Salvation encompasses the "little things" we "think" we can "handle" as much as it does the big stuff we know we can't! Our faith requires letting go of both the stuff we "can" handle and that which is far over our heads. God may ask us to take steps of obedience with the stuff we "can handle", such as going to someone, asking for their forgiveness, and working to restore the relationship, but he doesn't expect us to work out our own "forgiveness" for the wrong-doing in the first place. He "gifts" us with the forgiveness (our part in the offense) and then trusts us to do the work of reconciliation (bringing peace and healing within the relationship) - him alongside, guiding and directing, but we take the steps.
I don't know what "little stuff" you might be holding onto today for which you have formed the belief of "being able to work out" on your own. I do know that God wants the little stuff as much as he wants the big stuff. I also know the reality of holding onto the little stuff - because God asks for us to be faithful with the little stuff as much as we are the big stuff! This includes our willingness to let go of the stuff we think we can handle and then allowing him to bring it into his care and under his grace. When we become faithful to let go of the little stuff - he shows himself faithful to do a much better job with it than we could ever have if we held onto it! Just sayin!